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Food and homes for winter friends

Wild animal defence charity Aspas urges people to be careful when tending their gardens in winter

With autumn, even winter, descending on parts of France, animals such as hedgehogs and squirrels will be looking for a home. You can help them by following a few rules of caution and by arranging your garden in certain ways.

Looking after hedgehogs

Between the heavy use of pesticides, intensive farming and increasing traffic, the hedgehog pays a heavy price each year for the growth of human activity.

With its natural habitat decreasing, it is forced to look in the last quiet spots it can access: our gardens. You can look after the needs of hedgehogs very easily.

Leave part of your garden to grow wild, or leave a stack of wood, old branches, dry leaves and compost. This not only serves as a shelter for hedgehogs, but also a place where they can find their favourite snacks. You could also leave a bowl of water for them.

More enthusiastic wildlife lovers could even build a special shelter for them, a hedgehog gîte.

First, place a plank of wood on top of two logs between 5-10cm thick, to rest above ground away from the cold and frost. Place an upturned box over the top and cover with plastic or a lid to make it waterproof. Fill the inside with leaves, twigs and hay.

Dig a hole about 20cm wide and 6-7cm deep so the hedgehogs can get in and under the box to shelter. Fill the hole with leaves and sticks as well.

Keep an eye out at this time of year:

- Before mowing the lawn, trimming hedges or burning dead leaves, first double-check that there are no hedgehogs sheltering there.

- Don’t use netting to protect your plants; it is a death trap for hedgehogs.

- Avoid using pesticides and chemical slug-repellant; hedgehogs are a natural slug killer anyway.

- If you have a swimming pool, make sure you leave an inclined plank of wood dipping into the pool so that any animals that fall in can climb out.

Feeding the squirrels

Autumn, with its berries, mushrooms, fruits and nuts, is the time when squirrels set about storing up food for winter. Of course, this makes the nuts and seeds you left out for the birds a prime target for them. To avoid this, you could make a separate squirrel feeder. During winter, leave piles of hard nuts and seeds in a spot at least 2m high in a tree at regular intervals.

You can write to Aspas to request a sales catalogue, which includes a feeder designed for squirrels.

Aspas - Association pour la Protection des Animaux Sauvages, BP 505, 26401, Crest cedex

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