The 50% decline in population of one of the UK’s best-loved wild animals has ignited many campaigns such as Hedgehog Street and Hedgehog Awareness Week. STRI’s Head of ecology and environment, Bob Taylor, asks you to look after what you’ve got before it’s gone.
With the significant drop in temperature, I’ve already had two visits from hedgehogs to my house as you can see from the picture above. More on this later, but first some facts about hedgehogs.
The plight of the hedgehog
Hedgehogs suffer from very few predators. The main impacts upon these charismatic and very intelligent mammals is from ourselves, humans!
Strimmer damage is probably the main cause of harm or disfigurement, such as slices to nose and head or even loss of limb. Other less common issues include electrocution from fencing where the wires are set too low. Hedgehogs curl up and can be killed by electrocution.
Both the above can be avoided by greenstaff with just a little thought before commencing the strimming work, by checking and disturbing the grassland before commencing, or by raising any wired fencing to 150mm in height to allow hedgehogs to pass beneath.
More problematic is the changing weather conditions that are now having a major impact on hedgehog survival. Last year, the long winter saw even the largest and heaviest hogs coming out of winter in very poor condition.
In the past, texts on hedgehogs would recommend that hogs need to be over 450g in weight to be able to survive winter hibernation. With predicted climate change and our current trend of colder, longer, and wetter winters, modern written texts point out that hogs need to be at least 600g if they are to make it through to spring.
This year I have seen a number of small hedgehogs desperately trying to feed before the onslaught of the winter. This may be because of the long summer, and hedgehogs have tried to breed too late in the season, meaning that there are plenty of small hedgehogs still out when winter arrives.
My hedgehog visitors
On Saturday 27th October 2018, the first day of significant cold, I found one small hog weighing in at 390g. I took him indoors, fed and watered him, and he gained 14g in just one night.
On the 28th, I found a second hog weighing just 260g this one was cold and it supported two large ticks. With the pending frosts it would not have survived the night. He too benefited from a hot water bottle and a good nights sleep in the warmth.
These small hedgehogs cannot survive the winter. They cannot hibernate and instead need to stay awake searching for food that just is not there. Hedgehogs like these need our help. I know many of you have provide good dry places for hibernation, but a watching brief is also required.
How you can help
- Any hogs visible in the daytime, or if they are clearly very small, should be picked up and taken indoors.
- You can create temporary hedgehog accommodation by placing the animal on a newspaper and placing in a storage container or similar.
- Contact your local hedgehog carer. A full list is available from the British hedgehog preservation society here.
Hedgehog carers are amazing people. They are effectively amateurs who develop a passion and over time develop real expertise as to how to look after and care for hedgehogs. They do this work for free, often giving up time and valuable space in and around their homes.
In my opinion it is about time these people were better rewarded with proper grants given to ensure the continued survival of one of our most enigmatic mammals. We owe these people a great debt.
The latest State of British hedgehog report 2018 shows worrying trends indicating an unsure future and possible extinction if we do not change our behaviour towards these mammals, whilst at the same time ensuring our continued monitoring and care.