Hedgehog Awareness Week – May 2018
Photographs & text by David Keeble, ADCW Environment Team, & Catriona Beckles MVB MRCVS
This month is Hedgehog Awareness Week.
Hedgehogs remain one of Britain’s most well-loved wild animals but recent studies show their numbers are in decline. There is now a Hedgehog Awareness Week during May each year, so that we can report what are increasingly rare hedgehog sightings.
In years gone by, ‘Harry’ the hedgehog made regular appearances in and around the Aspire House car park at Aldershot. Harry was translocated on more than one occasion from below the wheels of our parked cars!
The partner of a member of our Aldershot team is a veterinary surgeon who has saved many hedgehogs in recent years and has shared some tips for safeguarding these amazing creatures, should you be lucky enough to spot one…
Why are hedgehogs under threat?
Veterinary surgeries often receive hedgehogs with horrific injuries, including missing limbs and open wounds. Some of the key hazards hedgehogs face are from strimmers or other garden equipment which can result in nasty lacerations that if left untreated become infected. Hedgehogs are also prone to falling down drains and into garden ponds where they become trapped, especially if there is netting over the pond.
One of the biggest killers is road traffic accidents. Most of these result in a quick death but some hedgehogs are left with limb or spinal problems and many require euthanasia on humane grounds. Hedgehogs are also brought into the surgery that are underweight and dehydrated with heavy parasite burdens, often those that have been born in Autumn and have not had time to build up enough reserves for hibernation.
In fact, Autumn is a particularly risky time of year for hedgehogs. The piles of wood and garden cuttings we build for bonfires make excellent hedgehog hibernation nests. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society suggests that bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit and that the base should by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom.
Should I help a hedgehog if I see one?
Hedgehogs should only be removed from their natural habitat if they are obviously injured or if they are out during the daytime and seem weak/lethargic/wobbly. Female hedgehogs may briefly leave the nest to search for food and in this situation do not need help; they will be walking normally and snuffling for food. Hedgehogs should gently be picked up while wearing gardening gloves. They can be placed in a high-sided box lined with newspaper, with a hot water bottle that is wrapped in a towel, so they don’t get burned. Provide them with some fresh water and some wet cat or dog food (not fish flavours). Do not give them milk. Bring the hedgehog to your local veterinary practice or wildlife rescue centre or RSPCA branch.
Hedgehog first aid
What else can I do to help?
There are many ways in which we can help make hedgehogs’ lives easier. Hedgehogs normally have large habitats which are often partitioned by domestic gardens. ‘Hedgehog street’ is an initiative to help combat this problem by asking people to create small hedgehog-sized holes in their fences, thus creating a ‘hedgehog highway’.
Having a nice pile of leaves in your garden helps hedgehogs find juicy insects; compost heaps are also great but be careful when forking them over. Providing some extra food for hedgehogs is a great way to supplement their natural diet and give you a chance to do some evening hedgehog watching! They are extremely noisy eaters. Often you will hear them before you see them but make sure to give them plenty of space, so they don’t feel threatened. You can get a dry pellet hedgehog feed from pet shops which is good for their teeth. It is a good idea to provide some fresh water too.
More info at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
10 Things You Might Not Know About Hedgehogs…
- Hedgehogs occupy a wide range of habitats from parks and farmland to gardens, covering a territory of up to 30 hectares
- They are nocturnal and most commonly seen at dawn and dusk
- Primarily insectivores they will consume beetles, caterpillars and slugs, so they are great for our gardens
- Hedgehogs have an average lifespan of 2 years although it can be up to 8 years
- Adult females can have 1-2 litters per year and the gestation period is around 35 days
- The breeding season is April/May and September/October
- Hedgehogs hibernate every year from November/December until around March
- An adult hedgehog weighs between 800-1200g
- Baby hedgehogs (hoglets) are born with small pink pimples on their backs which start to develop into spines with 24 hours