Twice a year our phone rings off the hook with calls from people who have managed to uncover or destroy a hedgehog nest while gardening. Some people just dive in without thinking and it helps no end if you can just have a careful look at the area you are about to work on before you attack it.
It’s illegal to remove, move or damage an occupied bird nest but there is currently no similar protection for hedgehogs.
Hogs will nest in all sorts of places. Under sheds, decking, shrubs and bushes, compost heaps, inside sheds, greenhouses and garages, and even in long grass. The injuries we see from mowers, weed eaters and garden forks beggar belief at times but, no matter how much we warn and complain, accidents happen so what do you do about it?
IN ALL CASES, IF IN DOUBT, CALL US FOR ADVICE. Please do not leave it for 24 hours as by then the babies can be covered in maggots.
Nests can be difficult to see. If you have just uncovered a nest rather than completely destroy it, cover it back up quick. DO NOT TOUCH THE BABIES. If you get your smell on them mum may well kill or abandon them.
If mum is still in the nest she may well just freeze so you can cover without worry. If mum runs off, cover the babies with what you removed then back off and watch from a distance to make sure mum comes back. Do not keep going to check by uncovering the nest. If the babies are distressed or hungry they will peep loudly, if this goes on for more than an hour call a rescue for advice.
Follow the advice for an uncovered nest. You may well have to touch the babies to put them back so rub your hands or gloves in soil, grass, anything to mask your smell with garden smells. Put as much of the nest back as you can, pop the babies in and cover them up then hope that mum will return. Do not keep uncovering the nest to check. Wait as instructed above then contact us if necessary.
Inconvenient nest – aka moving mum and babies
Newborns. Mum may kill them if disturbed. If you need to move a nest please think long and hard. From birth to the hoglets leaving home is 6 weeks. If you can, please wait and let them have a normal start in life. Do you really need to demolish that shed right now? Many nests uncovered have larger hoglets in them and they will be gone in a couple of weeks.
Moving them needs some thought and planning as a mum that feels threatened can kill or injure her babies. You must do any moves calmly and very quietly in order to avoid stressing mum. Talk quietly, ask any children to stand back and get dogs inside before starting.
If possible, pop a box or upturned bucket over the entire nest to stop mum running off. If mum runs then please just wait and watch from a distance until she returns before doing anything, babies have a much better chance of survival with her. Bigger babies may scatter in all directions and they will need to be found. Once secure go and get two deep boxes (around 18inches – a shoe box is an invitation for mum to escape) or a box and cat carrier. Line the bottom of each with newspaper and put an old towel or fleece in the carrier or box you are going to put mum in. Grab mum first and make her secure.
Wear old gardening gloves or get your hands really dirty in surrounding soil, grass or something smelly like Rosemary or Lavender from a bush in the garden. Place the second box next to the nest and lift the entire thing with the babies in it. If the nest has been damaged try to gather up as much as possible and put that in the box before transferring the babies.
Take both boxes inside somewhere quiet, cover with a towel to make them feel safe and keep flies off and call a rescue immediately. Do not wait, do not try to look after them yourself without backup from a rescue.
Taking the boxes to a fosterer. Please turn off radios and keep all noise to a minimum. If you have children with you tell them not to shout and not to keep looking in the boxes.
At the rescue
When you contact us we will prepare large housing, usually a double-decker or large rabbit hutch with a bed compartment or a bed box.
On arrival we rub our hands in poo, pee or anything smelly in the nest and check the babies over to make sure there are no injuries, maggots or fly eggs. We then transfer the entire nest into the bed in the hutch and cover them. At the opposite end of the hutch, in the open area, we place a bowl of food and a deep dish of water, deep enough to ensure any wandering babies cannot fall in and drown.
Finally we get mum out and check her over. If everything is OK we put her in the hutch next to the food, close the doors and back off. She will often stay curled for up to an hour before opening to explore her new surroundings. She may eat and drink before wandering off and finding the nest which still (hopefully) smells of her and the babies with no human interference.
There is still a possibility mum will reject or kill the babies so we watch carefully until we are sure she is feeding them.
CHECK BEFORE STARTING WORK
WATCH FROM A DISTANCE
LEAVE ALONE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE
CALL FOR ADVICE
IF ALL ELSE FAILS – GET THEM TO US IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT WAIT.