In the courtyard at home, I recently noticed hedgehog droppings here and there on the paving. I knew hedgehogs were in the area because I've seen them in next door's garden, but never this close to home. I love hedgehogs - who doesn't? And they are more than welcome.
There are always plenty of dishes of water around the garden, but the lack of rain has made it hard for hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) to find their food source since their dinner of choice requires a moist habitat and has retreated under ground. Until a couple of days ago, we'd only had about 12mm of rain since the beginning of June, so the ground is very dry and hard. At this time of year, all hedgehogs, and especially young ones, need to put on enough weight to get through winter hibernation, so we've started putting out a dish of cat food biscuits each night. You can buy food specially formulated for hedgehogs, but it's expensive and cat food is approved by the RSPB, so that's what they're getting.
It didn't take long for the hedgehogs to find the food. On the first night, as the sky darkened, we heard rustling outside and saw that two hedgehogs - one large and one small - had made a bee-line for the food and then had long drinks from the water dish nearby. On the second night, the same two appeared, approaching from one end of the courtyard where wood sheds are located. These sheds are rather rustic homemade structures and rest on pallets, which provide space for hedgehogs to sleep underneath. Last autumn we deliberately left any fallen leaves in situ around this space to provide cover for insects and a food source for wildlife. They'll also make good nesting material for the hedgehogs.
On the third night another hedgehog appeared from the same direction. The three ate together before the larger one set off alone. We've since realised they are mother and hoglets as the young hogs climb over the mother and often try to nurse, which she is refusing to let them do.
When I researched hedgehog sleeping habits, I read that they use a bed for a few days and then move on, often returning to the original bed a short time later. Still, I'm wondering if it's possible that the young hedgehogs were born under one of the woodsheds.
On that third night, my next door neighbour was looking out of her door as the hedgehogs left made their way into the hedge outside her house. She is Canadian and it was the first time she'd seen a hedgehog, a sight which delighted her, so she has also put out food and water for them - an action that could save lives in this hot, dry summer.