Make lodgings for a welcome winter visitor by building a hedgehog house for your garden; you’ll be supporting local populations of an at-risk species.
Hedgehogs hibernate through the winter, so in late autumn they start looking for a safe, sheltered place they can get comfortable in. Old tree trunks and piles of leaves or sticks make good natural lodgings. So, if you spot a pile of leaves in your garden late in the year, leave it alone until spring: a hedgehog may already be living there. Take extra care when mowing and hedge trimming too, as hedgehogs are nocturnally active but like to spend their days under bushes and shrubs.
Before winter begins, as you get your garden ready for the cold weather, why not take a little extra time to turn it into an inviting spot for hedgehogs? You can simply pile up grass cuttings and leaves in a corner of your garden to provide a place they can rest undisturbed. Alternatively, use our instructions to build a DIY hedgehog house out of wood. The project is not too complicated and it’s really satisfying to provide a safe habitat for a declining native species.
Hedgehogs build up a layer of fat to sustain themselves through hibernation, so they need plenty of food in advance. Young hedgehogs and females, in particular, spend the period from September to December busily searching for food, though male hedgehogs start to hibernate as early as October.
You can help hedgehogs bulk up ready for winter by providing small amounts of cat food and water for them in your garden. You should never give them milk, as it causes severe diarrhoea. Bear in mind though, that the food you supply should only be considered emergency rations. Like any other wild animal, a hedgehog will – and should – find its own food and a reliable supply may distract it from hibernating.
If your hedgehog house is occupied you may be surprised to see a hedgehog out and about when it should be hibernating – but they do occasionally wake up and even stray from their shelter. If you see an active hedgehog in winter, check whether it shows any signs of disease or other injuries and contact a specialist if it does.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) makes it illegal to kill or capture hedgehogs, while the Natural and Rural Communities Act (2006) lists them as a priority species in the UK. So it’s worth knowing how to properly take care of a hedgehog although you should not be tempted to bring them inside. Creating a comfortable natural habitat outdoors is the best way to support a healthy hedgehog population.
Exceptions include sick, injured, malnourished hedgehogs, and hedgehogs infested with parasites. Abandoned baby hedgehogs which appear to be too small (less than 500 g in weight) as winter approaches, will also need help. You should contact an expert or a wildlife vet for advice.
Remember that hedgehogs are outdoor creatures and that’s where they feel at home. They should only live and hibernate indoors in exceptional circumstances. Supporting wildlife should always be done with a view to keeping animals in the wild.
Our guide tells you how to build a safe, warm DIY hedgehog house in just a few steps.
Before starting to build your house, prepare the following materials and tools:
You can decide whether to build your hedgehog shelter with a base or open at the bottom. The priority is to keep the hedgehog and filler material dry throughout winter – so if you opt for an open floor, don't place the house in a ditch or on low, damp ground. A layer of gravel or wood chips on the ground offers extra insulation.
Our instructions are for a hedgehog house with an open base.
Always make sure you wear the right personal protective equipment when working with your pruner. With the GTA 26, you should wear safety glasses, gloves and sturdy shoes. Make sure you also wear snug-fitting clothes and tie back long hair. More details are available in the operating instructions for your product. Fully familiarise yourself with the tool before you use it for the first time, and check it is in flawless condition before each use. On request, your STIHL dealer will be happy to prepare your tool for its first use, and will also advise you on models and sizes of protective clothing that you can try at your leisure. Please remember that personal protective equipment is no substitute for safe working techniques.
With your tools, materials and safety equipment on hand, you can now follow our step-by-step guide to building a hedgehog house!
Transfer all the hedgehog house measurements to the wood panels as illustrated on the diagram. Clamp the wood securely to the work surface before using the garden pruner to cut the panels to size. Use both hands to guide the STIHL GTA 26 when sawing.
Cut out an entrance for the hedgehog house from the front panel.
Smooth all sawn edges with sandpaper, slightly rounding them off as you do. This is to prevent parts of the hedgehog house splintering later and creating a danger for the resident.
Mark the indicated angles on the side panels and cut them. These angled corners allow rainwater to flow off the roof without touching the walls and making them wet.
The shelter includes an inner flap that separates the sleeping chamber from the entrance. This keeps the hedgehog protected from cold and wind. The swinging flap also puts off unwelcome visitors, while still allowing the hedgehog to easily creep in and out.
Making the flap is easy. Cut out the opening for it in the inner wall, then cut a little extra off the door so that there is space to suspend it from the screw eyes. Use pliers to bend two screw eyes open and screw these into the top of the opening. Attach the two closed screw eyes to the top of the flap; hang the flap onto the open screw eyes, then close them again with pliers.
Now you can join the walls of the hedgehog house together. The quickest way is to use wood screws and a cordless screwdriver.
To make sure the roof of the hedgehog hotel doesn’t slip off, nail two wooden battens to the roof board as shown. For rain protection, fasten waterproof roofing felt to the roof with roofing felt nails. Apply linseed oil to the wood to help protect the hedgehog hibernation box from the elements.
Straw is the best thing to put inside your new hedgehog house. It is a good nesting material, an outstanding insulator, and also stays dry when it rains. Add enough straw to the sleeping chamber for your guest to snuggle into.
Leaves and hay are also suitable; hedgehogs like to use these to make a nest. However, leaves brought in from outside are often damp, and will go mouldy inside the hedgehog home. Before any hedgehog starts its hibernation, it’s a good idea to check the shelter and remove any damp nesting material.
The ideal location for a garden hedgehog house is on an elevated patch of ground to prevent water getting inside when it rains or snows. It’s also best to avoid a position in direct sunlight, so the animal can rest properly and is less likely to wake up early from hibernation. The best place to put a hedgehog house is on the north side of your home, tucked under evergreen bushes, trees, or under a porch. The entrance should be positioned so that wind and rain can’t get in.
Once you’ve put the house in place somewhere suitable, cover it with leaves and twigs. These materials add an outer layer of protection and camouflage the shelter from curious animals.
And that’s the final step! Your new winter accommodation is ready to welcome its first guest.