If you have an accessible, safe garden, you can encourage hedgehogs in a number of ways.
Where possible, try to use hedges rather than fences as a barrier. Hedging is an excellent habitat for garden wildlife which can be both a source of food and shelter to a number of animals. Another option is to create a 13cm hole in the bottom of your fence or gate so that hedgehogs can get in (and out). You can even encourage your neighbours to do the same and create a network of gardens where the hedgehogs can explore, hunt for food and eat up unwanted pests.
Wild garden areas
If you can leave an area of your garden untended and as natural as possible, it will attract wildlife who will use fallen leaves, twigs and dead vegetation to build their nests. It will also attract insects such as ladybirds, woodlice and earthworms, which hedgehogs love to eat. And, if you have room to build a log pile, this will provide the perfect hibernation site.
Having appropriate shelter is essential for a hedgehog's survival, especially during winter. If your garden is neat and tidy, a hedgehog might struggle to build it's own nest, so you can help them by providing a warm, dry and secure nest box. You can improvise with an old wooden crate by cutting an entrance tunnel and adding ventilation, but I decided to build my own and found it very easy. Click here to see my simple DIY plans. Place your finished nest box in a shady spot amongst foliage, backed up to a wall or fence.
Inside the box
Fill the box to the top with good quality chopped hay or straw. The hedgehog will use it to stay warm. While in residence, there is no need to change the bedding. The disturbance and new smell could drive your hog away, or cause a new mum to desert her babies. Only empty the box if your hog doesn't make it through winter or if the box has been empty for a month or so. Scrub it out with detergent, rinse and leave to dry naturally.
A nightly top-up of hedgehog-friendly food and fresh water will encourage visitors to your garden and will not interfere with natural foraging habits. Most adult hedgehogs eat around half of their body weight in food each night. Feeding during the winter months is especially important as it is impossible for hedgehogs to build up enough body fat using the food that is naturally available at the time of year. There is no need to feed a hedgehog anything other than a good quality meat-based cat or dog food with kitten or cat biscuits.
Is anybody there?
If you see any garden debris or disturbed hay in the entrance of the nest box, it's highly likely you have company! A hedgehog will have several nests so if you're not sure whether you have a resident, it is ok to occasionally check inside the box. Make sure you wear gloves so you don't transfer any strange smells and work slowly through the bedding.
Safe feeding area
Hedgehogs will be encouraged to eat if you can provide a secure area where they feel safe from cats and/or foxes. A large slab placed securely on four bricks is ideal or an upturned waterproof box with a hole around 4 or 5 inches (10 to 13cm) in diameter will suffice.