Ep.7 Hedgehog Hibernation
For this month's podcast episode, we interview Mary Hinton, from Help A Hedgehog Hospital, who has been rescuing hedgehogs in her converted garage in Tetbury for ten years now. On the day we visited, every one of her cages and hospital pods was home to a hedgehog. Whether young autumn juveniles born too late in the year to fatten up enough before hibernation, or sick and injured hedgehogs rescued by members of the local community. Mary is on hand with food, medication and a lovely warm blanket. It never freezes in her hospital but it does get as low as 7 degrees, to help those hedgehogs who are ready to hibernate.
- Why do hedgehogs hibernate?
- What happens to a hedgehog during hibernation?
- How does a hedgehog stay alive during hibernation?
- What should I do if I accidentally disturb a hibernating hedgehog?
- Where do hedgehogs choose to hibernate?
- And how can you help them to hibernate in your garden?
Listen here or download from Apple Podcasts.
As Mary mentions on the podcast, it is advised to keep putting out supplementary food for hedgehogs, even during the winter. Whether that's specially designed Hedgehog Food, or simple meat-flavoured cat or kitten biscuits. As Mary says, “Some hedgehogs, on milder days or if they get disturbed, do wake up. And they will then use quite a lot of their brown fat – which burns a lot of calories – in order to wake up. So that is why we ask people to keep putting food out.”
“It’s unusual to see a hedgehog out during winter months, but it’s not unheard of. I have been rescuing hedgehogs for ten years now…and once they get to the right size, they go and hibernate, in here, in captivity. I don’t deprive them of food. It is purely dictated by the temperature. However, I always have one or two that don’t! No idea why! And that does happen in the wild.”
One of the hedgehogs being cared for by Mary this winter.
What should I do if I see a hedgehog out at night in the winter?
Mary’s hedgehog hospital was very full. Both with unwell hedgehogs but also because of the numbers of underweight autumn juveniles they're finding. Hedgehog rescues are asking people, if they see a small looking hedgehog out at night during the winter, to weigh them. “There’s not one set weight. Up and down the country it is very much dependent on the weather. At the moment I am taking in anything weighing 450g and under. The research shows that a hedgehog out in the wild – a healthy one – can then safely hibernate if more than 450g. But it really depends on the weather and what’s going on in Cornwall is completely different to what is going on in Edinburgh.” So the advice is, if you see a small looking hedgehog, to weigh it, keep it contained in a cardboard box or plastic trug, and then ring your local hedgehog hospital to get their advice.
Autumn juvenile hedgehog in Mary's care at the moment
How to find your local hedgehog rescue
Most hedgehog hospitals have either a website or a Facebook page, or both. So all you need to do is Google “hedgehog hospital+your location” and your nearest one should pop up. Alternatively you could ask on a local town or community Facebook page. For general help and advice, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has an excellent website filled with information https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ and Hedgehog Street https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/ is another great resource.
If you do have some time to offer to your local hedgehog hospital, Mary says they are always in need of volunteers, and you don't need to worry about handling or caring directly for the hedgehogs if you would rather support with fundraising, administration of other help. "Very little of it is actually handling the hedgehogs. A lot of it is cleaning them out, preparing the food and that sort of thing. So get involved with your local rescue because they will be very happy to have your help. However small you may seem to think it is."