Hedgehogs: the animal friends in our garden

Small, discreet and silent hedgehogs are useful inhabitants of your garden. Excellent allies in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, they are insectivores friendly to the health of the environment, to be protected and safeguarded.

The gardener's great little ally

It really should be said: Whoever finds a hedgehog in the garden finds a treasure!

Likeable, intelligent and cute, hedgehogs are not only a pleasant spectacle for nature lovers, but with their presence they contribute to the well-being of the garden and its ecosystem. In this article, we'll explain how and why you can welcome this little ally into your green space.

A silent presence with significant benefits

As inhabitants of woods and meadows, hedgehogs have had to adapt to living in increasingly widespread urban environments, finding refuge and nourishment in our gardens. During a nocturnal hunt they can even cover 3 km. Silent and discreet, they love to live among vegetation and hunt at night, making themselves extremely useful in the sustainable management of green spaces.

Hedgehogs are insectivores and therefore excellent allies in maintaining the balance of the garden ecosystem. Greedy for aphids, larvae, beetles, earthworms and snails, hedgehogs help us eliminate small animals that can damage the plants in our gardens.

Hedgehogs are important for conserving biodiversity. They provide food for other animals, but above all they are important seed dispersers. By eating fruits and berries, they digest the seeds, and then excrete them in different places and as a result contribute to the diffusion of new plants, which is a fundamental action for all plant species that require animals for their propagation.

Therefore, hedgehogs play an important role in the food chain and in the health of the environment in general. Their presence helps regulate and keep the delicate balance of our gardens under control, in a completely natural and sustainable way!

Some curious facts about our little friends

Small and light, the hedgehog is about 25-27 cm long and rarely exceeds one kilo in weight. Widespread throughout most of Europe, it retains some characteristics of the first mammals to appear on Earth. Its typical quills, up to 8,000, are actually modified hairs, hollow inside, with a layer of hardened keratin. This is a formidable defensive strategy, especially when the animal curls up on itself, creating a ball of quills capable of protecting even the most vulnerable parts, such as the belly.

With the arrival of the cold months, the hedgehog goes into hibernation in order to make up for the scarcity of food. After choosing a den under piles of dry branches or foliage, it activates an energy saving mode that drastically reduces its body activity and metabolism. During hibernation, its heart only beats between 8–20 times per minute and its body temperature drops from about 37ºC to only 5ºC. During this stage the hedgehog loses about 15% of its total body weight. For this reason, at the end of the summer, the hedgehog must eat a lot, with very nutritious food, to reach a good "starting weight".

What should you do if you find a hedgehog in your garden?

Hedgehogs do not normally need human care. However, there are some things gardeners can do to help hedgehogs and encourage their presence in the garden.

Hedgehogs need hiding places to shelter from the cold and heat, shelters which are present in their natural habitats, but difficult to find in the gardens of our homes. For this it is useful to identify a quiet area where the hedgehog can obtain a small hiding place, for example by exploiting a pile of wood or a pile of stones.

Furthermore, during garden maintenance work, it is advisable to pay attention to the presence of hedgehogs, for example while cutting the grass or pruning the hedges, or before removing dry grass or brushwood. Many hedgehogs are injured by bush-trimmers or risk being burned under piles of branches. Even uncovered tubs and pools represent a danger, hedgehogs can swim for short distances and are attracted to the water but if the edges are too high they risk drowning.

If it is recommended to create a small water reserve near their shelter, it is, however, not advisable not to give food to hedgehogs, except in the case of injured specimens or those in obvious difficulty, in which case it is always better to contact specialized centers and people.

Finally, it is useful to remember that in many countries the laws protect the hedgehog, forbidding its hunting and use as pets or in captivity. In short, the hedgehog cannot be "detained", but only "hosted".

An endangered friend

Unfortunately, precisely because of human activity, today hedgehogs are considered at risk of extinction. Topping the list, the usual suspects such as environmental pollution and the destruction of their natural habitat, fragmented in urban areas, the use of chemicals, intensive agriculture and the introduction of non-native species.

Discreet and loveable, hedgehogs are a great resource for gardeners and the environment in general. From pest control to biodiversity conservation, they play an essential role in our garden ecosystem. It is therefore important to do everything possible to protect these precious animals and preserve their presence.

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