Written by Elaine Gardener (Guest blogger)
The adorable hedgehog … voted Britain’s favourite mammal however, numbers show our prickly prehistoric pals are in decline.
Important information to make note of: take the time now to locate your nearest hedgehog rescue. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society can be called on (01584 890 801) to provide details of rescues nearest to the location of the hedgehog in need. https://helpwildlife.co.uk/map/ will list some, but not every, Hedgehog and wildlife rescue in the United Kingdom.
A hedgehog out in the day displaying abnormal behaviour such as wobbling, laying down on its side or in direct sunlight, moving slowly without purpose for example, actively collecting leaves or grass, eating and drinking or resting in a well shaded, secluded area and regularly returning to a nest or other hiding place, is an EMERGENCY and will need proper care immediately! DO NOT try to look after this mammal yourself; it will be seriously unwell and will require specialist care and medication. The life of this hedgehog depends on the action you take immediately – DO NOT leave the animal unattended as it could move away and it is unlikely to be found again.
The hedgehog needs to be picked up carefully, with a thick towel, thick gardening gloves or oven mitts, taking care to avoid injury to yourself or the hedgehog. Place the hedgehog in a high sided box with either newspaper and some straw/hay or preferably a light coloured towel or T shirt.
Place the box in a quiet place indoors.
If there is no heavy bleeding that you can see, wrap a warm (not too hot) water bottle in a towel and place at one end of the box. Place the hedgehog on the towel and cover the box with another towel. Leave room so the hedgehog can move off the heated area if it gets too hot. Place a shallow bowl of water in the box but no food. It can be dangerous for the hedgehog to attempt eating if the body has gone into shock and started to shut down. If it is bleeding heavily, follow the previous instructions but without the hot water bottle.
Call your local rescue without hesitation.
A Decline in Numbers
The majority of reasons behind declining numbers is human activity; destruction of their habitat by building, unintentional poisoning from the use of pesticides and herbicides and loss of hedgerows on farmland.
New roads are a danger as they are busy with vehicles and often cut through the hedgehogs’ previous known walkway. A hedgehog has no ‘fight or flight’ defence mechanism as other animals do. Their defence mechanism consists of curling into a ball rather than run away. Hedgehogs spines work wonderfully well at keeping predators at bay and act as great shock absorbers but are no match for 4 wheels and a combustion engine. Hedgehogs appear to also rely on ‘It can’t see you therefore you can’t see me’ defence.
Housing developments block off access to natural food and water sources. There is now a law in place after extensive work with developers that requires the installation of ‘Hedgehog Highways’ in walls and fences of new builds, to maintain access to the land.
Contrary to popular belief, slugs and snails only make up around 5% of their food source. These crepuscular creatures happily snuffle around feeding on beetles, caterpillars, worms and earwigs which are much safer for them to eat – slimy slugs and snails can carry lungworm (or be can possibly be poisoned with slug pellets) which will ultimately kill the hedgehog. A hog will only eat these when they are absolutely starving and then they’ll likely die of lungworm (or poison) rather than starvation unless they are found in time and receive immediate medical care.
They need our help to get out of this prickly situation.
How to Help – Make a Hedgehog Friendly Garden!
Ensure your garden is accessible:
Cut a 13cm hole (about the size of a CD case) in your fence – some fencing companies are beginning to offer hedgehog highway gravel boards
Remove walls or fencing and plant a native hedge
- Ensure any ponds have an escape route:
- Use a gently sloping gravel area
- or –
- Add a ramp along one edge
- Create a wild corner to encourage insects:
- Leave the grass longer (ALWAYS check long grass before mowing or strimming as a hedgehog will not run away from the noise)
- Make a log pile
- Plant native friendly hedging
- Remove hazards:
- Lift any netting a good foot (30cm) off the ground at night
- Cover drains and holes
- Only site a bonfire just before lighting
- Stop using slug pellets and chemicals – look at alternative natural products
- Keep dogs on leads in the garden after dark to prevent accidents
- Provide food and water:
Food is supplementary and increasing insects in the garden is beneficial. Feeding should not be stopped in winter in the belief they are all hibernating (See section on Hibernation).
- Water is essential to life. Leave plenty of shallow bowls around
- Feed with complete kitten biscuits (not treats) and/or meaty cat or dog food. Fish flavour is okay and it can be in gravy or jelly.
- Hedgehog specific food however, some products can contain items that should not be fed to hedgehogs therefore cat or dog food is advised.
- Build a simple feeding station, to prevent other wildlife (or cats) eating the food
- The following is not an exhaustive list but MUST NOT be fed to hedgehogs:
- Sunflower hearts
- Provide a home:
- Build or provide a wooden hedgehog house (good quality, predator-proof houses can be bought) for sleeping or nesting
- Fill with dust extracted meadow hay
- Never be tempted to peek in the house – if disturbed, nesting females can abandon their hoglets
- Never use chemical wood preserver or disinfectants. If it needs to be cleaned out, use hot water only.
High mating season is usually in May and June with hoglets appearing around 4 weeks after nesting.
A female may have 4 to 5 hoglets. Sometimes a second litter is born late in the autumn and these hoglets can struggle to put on sufficient weight before winter hibernation. On average, a hedgehog should be around 600-650g7 before hibernating to allow for 30-35% body weight loss during this period. If a small hedgehog (less than the 400g size) is seen in autumn, then contact your local rescue for their advice.
During the winter months, hedgehogs are understood to go into deep sleep called hibernation. However, they don’t sleep the entire time, often waking to move nests which can consume a huge amount of energy. Not all hedgehogs hibernate either. This is also time when food is scarce so leaving food and water out year-round is essential.
Ticks and Fleas
Fleas are indigenous to hogs only and don’t infest anywhere else – not even your dog or cat! Fleas are rarely on the hog, preferring to stay in the nest and feed when the hedgehog is sleeping.
Never try to remove a tick from a hedgehog unless you know what you are doing and are using the correct tools. Incorrect removal can lead to leaving part of the ticks mouth parts behind causing infection. Interfering with a tick can also cause it to regurgitate the stomach contents into the hedgehog. One or two ticks are not a problem, they will drop off in due course. A hog with several ticks needs attention from a rescue or vet as this usually indicates and underlying problem.
Hedgehogs and the Law
Hedgehogs are protected by law (Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and should be enjoyed at a distance allowing them to be wild. Legally, hedgehogs are only allowed to be handled by a rescue or when in need of emergency care. There is no need to regularly weigh them unless a small juvenile is spotted in late autumn which will likely also need to be rescued.
Dazzling them with a torch to get a photo or to watch them is also against the law. Therefore, it’s a great idea to get a trail camera with infrared lights to be able to watch them happily snuffling away in the dark. These can range from around £30 upwards. These cameras are also a great way of spotting hedgehogs in need of rescue.
A hedgehog will not stay in your garden if it doesn’t feel safe. Keep them wild and enjoy watching their natural hogtivities on camera!
1 Build a Hedgehog Feeding Station, RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/openahedgehogcafe/
2 British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/
3 Vale Wildlife Feeding Wild Hedgehogs Guide http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding-wild-hedgehogs.pdf
4 Build a Hedgehog House, RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/giveahogahome/
5 Riverside Woodcraft, Riverside Gold https://www.riversidewoodcraft.co.uk/hedgehog-houses/hedgehog-house-riverside-gold-plus-free-food/
6 Hedgehog Street https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/about-hedgehogs/hoglets/
7 Size Guide, Willows Hedgehog Rescue https://www.willowshedgehogrescue.co.uk
Elaine Gardener. A microbiologist with 15 years of industrial pharmaceutical microbiology experience now working in the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth (https://www.port.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-groups/centre-for-enzyme-innovation).
Disclaimer: I am not a rescue nor claim to be one. Information has been provided based on current advice available from rescues.
With thanks to Hamble Hedgehogs (Registered Charity 1185442) for their contribution to this.