For many years the hedgehog was a familiar inhabitant of parks, gardens, cemeteries, railway embankments and waste ground. However, in recent times their numbers have crashed – from around 36 million in the 1950s to less than a million today. These nocturnal animals are now a rare sight, often only spotted out in the daylight when they are in distress or unwell.
Suburban gardens, however, can provide the hedgehog with many opportunities for foraging, breeding and hibernating. They may be found under compost heaps, under log piles, behind sheds and below hedges as their name suggests. You can also provide a safe haven for hedgehogs by purchasing a Wildlife World Hogilo or Hedgehog Igloo. Gardens are excellent sources of food for hedgehogs, such as worms, slugs and beetles. You can make your garden even more valuable if it’s interconnected to a neighbour’s garden, via holes in the bottom of a garden fence, to make a good size hedgehog territory.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are very much the gardener’s friend, eating those invertebrates such slugs, beetles, earwigs and caterpillars which the gardener loves to hate. Hedgehogs also love worms and will eat millipedes that many predators find distasteful.
If you would like to help hedgehogs you can buy specially formulated Hedgehog Food such as the Spikes range. However, if you don’t want to buy anything special you may put out a saucer of meat-based dog or cat food (don’t use fish-based food) as a welcome supplement to a hedgehog’s normal diet. You can mash the cat food with a little bit of cereal like weetabix, bran or wholemeal bread, to give it some bulk. You can also feed meat-based cat biscuits as these are good for the teeth. Other “treats” can include sultanas, small pieces of fruit, cooked potato, light fruitcake, plain biscuits, cooked chicken, and raw mince. Even if you don’t feed your hedgehogs, please always may sure there is a shallow dish of water especially during the summer months.
It is a good idea to place the food in a feeding station to stop cats and dogs from stealing the food and to keep the hedgehog safe from predators whilst eating. A feeding station should have a tunnel entrance or maze design to prevent badgers or dogs attacking the hedgehog and a liftable lid to allow you to put in dishes of water and food. You can either make your own or buy one of ours. Our Hogilo House acts as a great feeding station during the summer, and a hibernation station during the winter.
PLEASE FEED HEDGEHOGS IN DRY WEATHER – OFFERING MEATY PET FOOD AND FRESH WATER CAN BE A LIFESAVER
Important Never give cows milk to a hedgehog as they cannot digest the lactose.
When Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?
Hedgehogs go into hibernation when the temperature drops and food is scarce, usually around November/December time.
Favourite sites that hedgehogs use for hibernation are under hedges, in piles of brushwood, inside compost heaps or in old rabbit burrows and underneath timber buildings and sheds. Hedgehog nests are generally constructed from old dry leaves, grass and other vegetation and can be up to 50cm thick. Hedgehogs will also readily use man-made hedgehog houses, you can either make these yourself or buy one of ours.
Hedgehogs do wake up throughout their hibernation, generally because of a disturbance or due to expectantly hot weather, but they rarely leave their nests. They can be awake for a couple of days. Hedgehogs don’t always hibernate, if there is enough food and the air temperature is not too low hedgehogs will not hibernate. Hibernation ends when the temperature starts to rise, usually around mid March to early April.
When to Help a Hedgehog?
If you see an injured hedgehog out in the day or struggling to walk properly it needs urgent help. Use gloves to lift it and put it in a high-sided cardboard box with a towel or fleece in the bottom and put the box in warm and quiet place.
Call British Hedgehog Preservation Society Helpline on 01584 890 801 or your local Hedgehog Rescue Centre for advice.
Hedgehogs that need help are:
Hoglets may be orphaned if their mother is killed or injured. This can happen in many ways though mostly through dogs attacks on the nest or the mother being killed by cars or in garden accidents such as with strimmers. If you find an orphaned hoglet it can make a terribly distressing noise. A mother hedgehog will occasionally move her hoglets in daylight away from danger, but if she is not nearby and hoglets are seen in daytime for a prolonged time or in distress then it is time to act and call for help and advice on rescue.
If a hedgehog is seen out in the daytime, this is often a bad sign. Check to see if the hedgehog shows obvious signs of injury or is wobbly or unsteady on its feet. Common problems are entrapment in netting or rubbish, poisoning by slug pellets and open wounds caused by bites, dogs, garden strimmers or burns. Other symptoms may include breathing difficulties or being surrounded by flies. This is time to act to save the hedgehog.
However, if the hedgehog is female and uninjured and seen out in the summer please leave her be as she may be a nursing mother. Similarly large, uninjured hedgehogs that are seen in winter may have awoken temporarily from hibernation and should be left alone. Uninjured hedgehogs in immediate danger e.g. in a road may be moved a short distance out of harms way using gloves.
Some hedgehogs may have late or second litters, this means that there may be under-weight youngsters that do not have sufficient body weight to survive hibernation when the temperature falls. If you regularly feed your hedgehogs you will aware that you have small youngsters about, so you can monitor them. Use a kitchen scales to weigh any small hedgehogs as any that are under 600g are unlikely to survive into November/December. This is the time to contact your local hedgehog rescue who can feed and keep the under-weight youngster awake using heat mats and build them up to a suitable weight for spring time release.
Useful Contacts and Further Reading
British Hedgehog Preservation Society –
For further information send a S.A.E to:British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Hedgehog House, Dhustone, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 3PL