|The hedgehog, Britain’s only spiny mammal, is an endearing creature and familiar to all, but they are in decline in Britain, and increasingly rely on our gardens for food and shelter as traditional habitat in woodland, hedges and farmland has been reduced.
Adult hedgehogs grow up to 30 cm in length and 1.5 kilos in weight, the males being slightly larger than the females. Their backs are covered in thousands of spines, which are actually modified hairs. These offer excellent protection, as a hedgehog can roll up into a spiky ball at a moment’s notice when it senses danger. Their natural predators are few, mainly foxes who catch little hoglets, and badgers, whose powerful claws are a match for the hedgehogs’ spiny coat.
A small hole in the fence can help
Hedgehogs’ diet consists mainly of invertebrates like beetles, slugs, caterpillars and worms, and gardeners welcome them as pest controllers. You can provide them with extra food which they will enjoy, especially in the autumn when they are preparing for hibernation. Meat based pet food is the best choice, but avoid dairy products and bread. Hedgehogs have excellent memory and visit several food ‘hot spots’ during their nocturnal wanderings. They rely on their strong sense of smell to locate food at night-time, and are rarely seen in daylight. Hedgehogs need 12 average-sized gardens to forage, so you can help by having a small hole in your garden fence for them to enter from neighbouring gardens. This makes it much easier to find food and search for a mate in the breeding season.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals and males and females only get together in order to mate in the spring and summer. On average, four or five babies are born about a month later. Sometimes a second litter is born late in the year, and these young hedgehogs face a struggle for survival, having very little time to build up the fat reserves for hibernation. Hedgehogs’ hibernation period depends largely on weather conditions but generally takes place between November and March.
Check carefully for hedgehogs and other small animals
As well as a decline because of the loss of natural habitat, thousands of hedgehogs perish every year on our roads. Gardens can also prove dangerous for hedgehogs. If you have a pool or a pond, make sure it has sloping edges or chicken wire to help a hedgehog climb out. Hedgehogs are good swimmers but often drown because they cannot manage to get out of water. They like to take their daytime snooze in long grass, so check the lawn before trimming or mowing it. Slug pellets and poisoned slugs can also prove lethal to hedgehogs, so it is best to use natural pest control. Household rubbish needs to be disposed of carefully, as many hedgehogs have died with their head stuck in cans and tins discarded by humans, as well as in plastic beer rings, which should be cut before disposal. In the autumn, many a hedgehog meets an unnecessary death in a bonfire. They like to nest and hibernate in piles of leaves and logs, so if you are building a bonfire this November 5th, please check carefully for hedgehogs and other small animals before lighting it.
Notes to Editor
For more information please contact Dorset Wildlife Trust on 01305 264620.
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Working for a secure future for Dorset’s wildlife enriching the quality of life
Dorset Wildlife Trust works to champion wildlife and natural places, to engage and inspire people and to promote sustainable living. Founded in 1961, DWT is now the largest voluntary nature conservation organisation in Dorset, with over 25,000 members and over 40 nature reserves. Most are open daily and there are visitor centres providing a wealth of wildlife information at Brooklands Farm, Lorton Meadows, Kingcombe Meadows and Brownsea Island Nature Reserves, The Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve and the Urban Wildlife Centre at Upton Heath Nature Reserve. DWT plays a key role in dealing with local environmental issues and leads the way in establishing the practices of sustainable development and engaging new audiences in conservation, particularly in the urban areas.
Photo by Nikkii Hesketh-Roberts
Photo by Jeremy Powne