The Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehogs are found across the UK and Ireland. Since the 1950’s, 95% of the UK’s hedgehogs have disappeared. The population has declined from 36 million animals to only about 1 million today. This represents a very worrying 50% decline since the 1990’s alone. Numerous factors have led to this dramatic decline, including, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, increasingly poor hedgerow management, traffic deaths and increased use of pesticides.
Hedgehogs are unmistakable as they are the only mammal in the UK to be covered in spines. A fully-grown adult can have 6000 spines! If threatened they will roll into a distinctive ball, projecting their spines outwards.
Hedgehogs need to hide from predators so are often to be found hidden in the undergrowth. They are nocturnal so usually emerge at around dusk, foraging through the night. If food is scarce, they can sometimes be seen during the day. They can be seen foraging in a range of habitats including urban environments, grazed pastures, gardens, woodland edges and golf courses.
Hedgehogs have been known to travel up to 3km in one night in the search for food. Broken up cowpats and horse droppings could be a sign that a hedgehog has foraged through it in a search for worms which is a favourite food. They eat a range of other ground dwelling invertebrates including beetles, millipedes, slugs and caterpillars. Hedgehogs make a range of snuffling and snorting sounds when foraging in the undergrowth and have even been known to hiss!
Hedgehogs breed throughout the spring and summer months from April to October. They can have more than one litter in a season. However, young hedgehogs born late in the season often don’t make it through hibernation as they don’t have enough time to gain weight before winter. Small hedgehogs may therefore need to be taken into care. Seeing a hedgehog out during the day, particularly in October is likely to be a sign that the hedgehog won’t make it through hibernation without assistance. With donations from the public, charities such as the Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue Trust are able to care for hedgehogs when they are ill or need rehabilitation.
In light of dramatic population declines, hedgehogs are afforded partial protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and are listed as priority species under Section 7 of the Environment Act 2016 (in Wales). They are also protected under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 as being of principal importance for maintaining and enhancing biodiversity in England. The legislation afforded to hedgehogs in the Environment Wales Act (2016) requires all public bodies including Local Authorities to have regard for biodiversity conservation when carrying out their functions. Unfortunately, despite this legal protection, hedgehog numbers continue to decline.
How Can I Help Hedgehogs?
Give a hedgehog somewhere to live! Gardens are good places for hedgehogs to live as there are often places for them to hide and slugs and invertebrates for them to eat. You can buy a hedgehog house for your garden or make your own. Placing one of these in a well-vegetated area of the garden could give your hedgehogs a better chance of making it through the winter.
It can be difficult for hedgehogs to move around the modern urban environment as modern gardens are often impenetrable to wildlife. You can help by providing holes or gaps under fences, allowing hedgehogs to forage in your garden and move around the landscape more easily.
Hedgehogs are often found in piles of brash, or in tall tussocky vegetation or wasteland. Before clearing an area of land, vegetation should be strimmed to a length of about 300mm to make the area less suitable for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs will hopefully vacate the area of their own free will before any works take place.
Any excavations or trenches you dig in the garden should be fitted with ramps to help hedgehogs escape if they fall in. Similarly, garden ponds should be built with a shallow sloping edge so that any non-aquatic wildlife can escape if it accidentally falls in. Hedgehogs can swim, but will be unable to climb out of a steep sided pond.
If you are having a garden bonfire, make sure to thoroughly check the material to be burnt before setting it alight. To a hedgehog, a nice pile of wood and garden litter is a tempting place to live and hibernate!
Donate to a hedgehog charity. For example, The Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue Trust. Acer Ecology recently rescued two young hedgehogs that were too small to make it through the winter. We took them to be looked after at the Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue Trust in Longframlington. Click here to read about our hedgehogs (named Ali and Hannah!).
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