There are 35 known mammal species found in Ireland. Most of these mammals are land dwelling. The most common terrestrial mammals are the hedgehog, stoat, red fox, otter, badger, red squirrel and bank vole (1).

Mammals aren’t always found in wooded areas. They can also be found in more urban areas — particularly, gardens with wildlife in mind. Gardens can function as wildlife passageways. Small changes in your garden and a little bit of patience can reward you with the appearance of some otherwise reclusive mammals (2).

Here we discuss how to help some of the most common mammals in your own neighbourhood; the hedgehog and the red squirrel.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

It is not uncommon to find hedgehogs in urban gardens looking for food (3). They are often seen rolled into spiny balls when alarmed. They hibernate from October to March. Even though this species is familiar to many of us, its European population is in decline. They love to eat snails and slugs and are therefore great pest controllers in your garden (4).

  • Supply of food and water

One of the best ways to help the hedgehog is to supply them with food and water especially in periods of drought. Wet dog and cat food will be feasted on by a hedgehog (3).

  • Hibernation nesting

Hedgehogs love dry spaces like garden sheds, under hedges or piles of leaves, or even hidden within a dense and cosy patch of wildflowers (4). An easy way to help the hedgehog find a hibernation spot is to plant trees like hornbeam, oak, or beech, as these trees have good size leaves for a hedgehog to build a hibernation nest under (4). You can buy hedgehog ‘houses’ but you can also easily make your own hedgehog house with wood piles. This doesn’t need to be difficult or technical at all.

  • Habitats

Vegetable patches are great habitats for hedgehogs during spring and summer. In return, the hedgehog will keep your vegetable patch free from pests. Not using any chemicals to treat the vegetables is important as they could harm the hedgehog (4).

For further information, authors Helen Bostock and Sophie Collins wrote a book specifically on how to help hedgehogs in your garden: How Can I Help Hedgehogs? A Gardener’s Collection of Inspiring Ideas for Welcoming Wildlife

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

The red squirrel is the only squirrel species native to Ireland. The grey squirrel was introduced to Ireland from North America in the early 1900s. The red squirrel has orange to red coloured fur with ear tufts (which are missing with the grey squirrel) and its tail is normally paler than the rest of its body. Most often present in forested areas but have also been detected closer to urban settings (3). If you are lucky enough to have red squirrels in your garden the following measures could be of help to the red squirrel.

  • Supply of food

You can feed squirrels all year round as they don’t hibernate like the hedgehog. Squirrels feed on nuts and seeds and offering them a wide variety can help them in times of drought or frost. Hazelnuts are a squirrel’s favourite but chestnuts, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds are great options, too. Fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots are also eaten by the squirrel (5).

  • Creation of natural food sources

Supplying food is an option but a more long-term solution is to provide a natural food source for the squirrel. Planting red squirrel friendly shrubs such as raspberry, guelder rose, bird cherry, crab apple, bullace and brambles can help to have a continuous food supply for the red squirrel (5).

  • Habitat

Red squirrels build nests from leaves, mosses, twigs and grass. By leaving these materials in your garden the red squirrel will have great access to its building materials (6). It’s important not to leave too much food out for animals as this can cause hostile competition and predation. Make sure your little friends have escape routes in case they need to dodge a predator (5). Leaving a corner of your garden free to grow wild with grass and flowers and allowing dead plants to decompose will help lots of different species in your garden by creating food sources, nesting habitats or hibernation spots (6). Try this for a while and enjoy the gifts that will soon arrive to your ‘wildlife corner’.

By Babette Bookelaar