Hedeghogs have been around longer than the sabre tooth tiger and woolly mammoth. Sadly due to humanity’s carelessness with the environment, increased urbanisation and plastic pollution, hedgehog numbers are now in decline. We have lost over half our hedgehogs from our countryside and a third from our towns and cities.
Having fewer hedgehogs in our landscape is a loss for the UK, not only because of their charming presence but also because of their role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, controlling insect populations and keeping gardens healthy.
Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators, along with dormice and
bats. During hibernation hedgehogs are not really asleep, instead they drop their body temperature
to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor. This allows them to save a
lot of energy but slows down all other bodily functions making normal activity impossible.
They usually hibernate from October/November through to March/April. They are likely to move nesting sites at least once during this period and so can sometimes be seen out and about during this time. During mild winters hedgehogs can remain active well into November and December.
While in hibernation the hedgehog’s fuel supply comes from the fat stores it has built up over the summer. Eating enough before hibernation is vital. A hedgehog will eat food equivalent to 20% of her own body weight in one sitting during the run-up to hibernation. That’s equivalent to an average man eating 112 quarter pounders in one meal! This is why putting out supplementary food of dog and cat food can really help them.
Any disturbance during their hibernation period can be extremely dangerous, as hedgehogs use up their precious energy reserves in order to become active again.
• Leave some areas of wilderness where your hedgehogs can snuffle for insects.
• Put out a shallow bowl of water for drinking in your garden.
• Hedgehogs rely on insects to eat, which can become scarce in the winter months. They are partial to meaty or dog and cat food. Pop a bowl out for them at dusk.
• Install a hedgehog house in a quiet part of the garden.
• Do look to see if your hedgehog is limping or appears to be injured, or appears underweight and contact your local rescue centre or vet if your hedgehog appears in distress.
• Choose pesticide free foods.
• Use a water-based, environmentally friendly wood treatment when treating your outdoors woodwork.
• Make sure any of your garden netting is off the ground enough so hedgehogs can pass under safely and not get caught up in it.
• Place an exit ramp in your pond or pool, and let them have at least one side sloping gently, so they can make a quick exit.
• Cover drain holes with a paving slab or litter tray with a brick on top so hedgehogs can’t fall in and get stuck.
• Surprisingly bread and milk is bad for our spiky friends. Please avoid feeding them this.
• Give your hedgehogs space and avoid picking them up. They are shy little creatures.
• Don’t leave plastics, particularly black sacks lying around, which they will scuffle in to and might never get out!
• Don’t use slug pellets or other chemicals, they may poison hedgehogs and other animals.
• Never light a bonfire without checking to see if a hedgehog or other wild animal has moved in.
• Check your compost heaps before raking in case hedgehogs or other animals have taken up residence.
• Hedgehogs are renowned for fleas. However the fleas they have are host specific and can not last on your pets or people. Please don’t spray them with cat or dog flea spray as this is harmful to them.
We detest plastic and hedgehogs do too. They have been known to choke on stray pieces of litter. They can easily get tangles up in
polystyrene cups, the plastic rings from packs of bottles and cans, plastic bags, elastic bands, hair ties and netting. These items
often cause serious damage, and can even result in hedgehog deaths.
You can help by picking up litter on your country walks.
Hedgehogs love to hide under leaf foliage, bushes and as the name would suggest within hedgerows. With this in mind please check areas before using strimmers or gardening equipment and use them with caution. When hedgehogs are disturbed or threatened they curl up in to a ball so their spines protect their soft belly. They won’t run when they hear you coming so you may accidentally harm them or kill them.
Hedgehogs are the UK’s only spiny mammal. It’s a unique defence mechanism that can act as a buoyancy aid and shock absorber
too. Whilst other creatures have developed camouflage, or the ability to run from predators or teeth and claws to fight back
the hedgehog relies on her prickly coat of over 5000 spines to keep her safe.
Those spines have done a pretty good job for millions of years. The only UK animal able to tackle a healthy adult hedgehog is the badger. Sadly though spines are no defence against a moving car or strimmer.
Your garden alone will not be big enough for your hedgehog. Small though they are, a typical hedgehog travels over a kilometre
every night looking for food.
Garden walls and well-maintained fences restrict hedgehog movement.
So make a highway.
Cut a small hole, about 5 inches square in the bottom of your fence. This will allow the hedgehog to roam. Before you do this, let your neighbour know what you’re doing and check that the fence is actually yours.
Hedgehogs reproduce between April and September, being busiest in May and June. Their babies are called ‘hoglets’ When they are born their spines are still soft and short. Soon after birth, the spines harden and become longer. These spiky spines offer protection to their vulnerable parts during sleep and threatening situations, as they can curl themselves up into a tight ball.
One of the most important things about our hedgehogs is that they are an indicator species. They act as a barometer for the health of our local environment.
Unlike some other wildlife, hedgehogs aren’t fussy, they don’t depend on just one food source, or get adversely affected by small changes in the weather. Hedgehogs enjoy a varied diet and are pretty flexible about what they eat, they are also able to live happily in lots of different environments.
When hedgehogs are thriving it’s reasonable to assume that other creatures will be too. All is well in the local environment. A thriving hedgehog population indicates a plentiful supply of invertebrates, good diversity of habitat and connectivity of the natural environment. These things are important to a whole range of wildlife, not just hedgehogs.
Where hedgehogs are in decline, as they are in much of the UK today, this is likely due to a lack of insects to eat, dwindling and fragmented places for them to live. These factors are all indicators of generally poor environmental health which will eventually impact other species, including us humans.
• Body length: 14cm - 30cm
• Tail length: can add an extra 1-6 cm
• Top speed: 9.5 km/hr in bursts, or 6 feet (183 cm) a second!
• Habitat: grassland, hedgerows, woodland, gardens and meadows
• Life span: Around 7 years
• Currently 16 known hedgehog species worldwide
• A hedgehog has around 5000 spines, each spine lasts about a year
• Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal creatures, searching for food at night, though it can occur during the day too, especially when it has rained
• Excellent sense of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight
• A hedgehog litter can contain up to 7 hoglets
• They are the only British mammals with spiky spines on their coat
• A group of hedgehogs is called an ‘array’