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Hedgehogs

I think we’re all aware that the hedgehog population has been in rapid decline for years and for many reasons, including habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as the intensification of farming. Let’s hope that the current changes in agricultural policy (payment for ‘public good’) will mean the restoration of permanent pasture, hedgerows and field margins which could encourage the recovery of hedgehog numbers.

In the meantime, I was very pleased last autumn to be the lucky recipient of three rescue hedgehogs.
They had been cared for by a dedicated and knowledgeable person who looks for suitable rehoming places when the hedgehogs reach the critical weight of 600 -700 g so they can safely hibernate outside.
They arrived in a cardboard box padded out with crumpled newspaper for safe travelling. These little, independent creatures are very appealing, with their black beady eyes and their questing, snuffly snouts. But they each have different personalities and one of them, the biggest male, was distinctly grumpy, hissing fiercely and trying to bite as he was lifted out (gloved hands essential).
We released them one by one after dark and they ambled off in different directions to their solitary new lives around the extensive gardens and surrounding pastureland here in Forncett.
As they are not particularly territorial and will wander for a mile or more a night in search of food, I may never see them again!
However, I did provide them with a feeding station to tempt them, offering the recommended food of meaty tinned or dry cat/dog food plus a dish of water.
Most people know now, but just in case you don’t, NEVER feed milk, (nor the bread that is sometimes added) or mealworms - all these play havoc with hedgehog digestive systems and can result in a painful death.
Their preferred natural food consists of beetles, grubs, worms and slugs.
Hedgehogs do not pair bond, and the female raises her young unaided by the male. The hoglets are usually born from May to September. At first their spines (which are modified hairs) are hidden under the skin - imagine giving birth to something prickly! - and the initially white, softish spines begin to emerge a few hours later. At about 5 or 6 weeks old the young leave the nest weighing around 250g. Late born hoglets are often too small to survive hibernation.

 

2020.03.Hedgehog.Photo Wikipedia 2Female with one young. Photo thanks to Calle Eklund/V-wolf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11009458

As you’ll know, hedgehogs are nocturnal, so a hedgehog out in the daytime is a hedgehog in distress. Looking after orphaned, ill or underweight hedgehogs can be quite complex, so the best advice here is to contact one of the people or organisations below for advice. There’s a small army of experienced and willing hedgehog specialists out there, ready to help.

Here are some things we can all do to help conserve this declining species:

  • Garden in a wildlife friendly manner:
  • Use no chemicals (which kill off natural food sources).
  • Create ‘wild’ areas with shelter for hibernation.
  • If your garden is securely fenced, make a 14 cm square hole at the bottom, and ask your neighbours to do the same, to create a hedgehog highway.
  • Take care using netting which hedgehogs can get tangled in.
  • Ensure that your pond has a graded shallow end or ramps to escape drowning.
  • Take great care when strimming and mowing. (Look up Philip Larkin’s poem, The Mower.)
  • Minimise bonfires and always check for hiding hedgehogs. ( I have also found toads love to nestle in bonfire ash so look out for them too.)
  • Also, drive carefully at night and look out for hedgehogs trotting along our little country lanes.
  • Contacts
    My ‘rescuer’ was Sally in Norwich -
    A local rescuer is Tracy Jenkins - 07766 913370
    PACT Animal Sanctuary will give good advice by phone - 01362 820775

March 2020

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