Hedgehogs and Badgers
Several people in the village put food out for hedgehogs and – until recently – hedgehogs have been frequent visitors to people’s gardens. However a couple of people have reported seeing a badger polishing off the hedgehog food in the last few weeks, and on a couple of occasions I have witnessed a badger attacking a hedgehog in my garden. I tried to exclude it by blocking an access hole and shutting the gate overnight, but to no avail. Having previously seen 3 hedgehogs on a regular basis, I was only seeing 1 – the largest – and so was concerned about what had happened to the others. I emailed Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for advice on the subject and received the following very helpful email back:
Donna mentioned that you have experienced some issues with badgers being attracted by your hedgehog food. This is quite timely as we had a staff debate regarding research on badgers and hedgehogs last week and the issue of feeding hedgehogs came up.
Based on your description of the garden I suspect the badgers are coming over the wall. They are actually quite good climbers and can easily scale sizeable walls if they have learnt that there is food the other side. Short of turning your garden into a fortress there probably isn’t much you can do to exclude or deter them.
Our feeling is that feeding hedgehogs in areas that have a healthy badger population may well create an ecological trap, although there have been no studies into this as yet. Essentially, feeding draws hedgehogs and badgers together when they would otherwise have been separated in time or space. This leads to an impact as the hedgehogs and badgers will be competing for the same food resource and predation becomes more likely.
In terms of the hedgehogs that have gone missing, predation could also be the answer but hedgehog is a very minor component of badger diet in the UK (less than 2%). It is more likely that the hedgehogs have been deterred by the badgers, which are a stronger competitor and potential predator, and have stopped using your garden.
There are ways to make a badger-proof hedgehog feeder and this link (http://wildpro.twycrosszoo.org/S/00Man/MammalHusbandryTechniques/HHogHusbIndTech/ImgHhogLongTermCare/FeedingSet_2.jpg) gives an example of a simple one. This should address the issue of badgers, foxes, cats or anything else eating the hedgehog food. It probably won’t solve the ecological trap issue as badgers will still be attracted to the scent of food, and therefore, the risk of the hedgehogs being out-competed or predated remains.
Personally, I would probably stop feeding the hedgehogs and focus on creating covered scrub/hedgerow, compost habitats that enhance populations of natural invertebrate prey, offer cover for hedgehogs and less suitable foraging habitat for badgers. If you wish to keep feeding then perhaps try a badger-proof feeding station and monitor this to see if that deters the badgers from visiting.
Do let us know the outcome as this is an area of interest for us.
I’ve decided to stop feeding for the moment, but to resume in the late summer / autumn using a badger-proof feeder as in the link above.
Incidentally, the Wildlife Trust would like to know about any sightings of hedgehogs – you can enter these at http://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/hedgehog?gclid=CMrwle7yl80CFUlmGwodquQGkQ.