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Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are spiny mammals who share a distant ancestry with shrews. They are one of our favourite animals in the UK and catching a glimpse of one as it dashes across the garden, or hearing its snuffles as it wolves down food is always a delight!

Hoglets are born between April and September but most will be born in May to June, usually with 4 – 5 babies in a litter, although it is usual that only 2 or 3 of these survive. Baby hedgehogs are born blind, pink and spineless, but the spines develop very soon after. The mother hedgehog will feed the young for the first month or so after which she will take them out on foraging expeditions, showing her young how to feed and on what. After two months the babies become fully independent. Hedgehogs are one of the few UK mammals to hibernate in the colder months, usually between November and March although they need to be at least 500 – 600 grams to successfully hibernate.

Hedgehogs will wake up several times during hibernation and if you should spot one out between these times it is a good idea to offer it food and water. Hedgehogs usually live for 2 – 4 years in the wild but sadly are in decline in the UK (with modern garden practices such as concreting and gravelling being amongst the reasons). They have recently joined the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which is a list of species in need of conservation and greater protection.

Hoglet in leaves near a plant pot

Identification
  • Obvious spines on body
  • Pointy snout with a black tip
  • More often seen at night
  • Common in gardens and parks
  • Black and brown in colour
  • Droppings are small and cylindrical consisting of insect fragments and will be shiny with a sweet smell (if you are brave enough to have a sniff!)
  • Often heard ‘snuffling’ when foraging for food
  • Will roll into a defensive ball when disturbed or threatened

Latin name: Erinaceus europaeus

In The Garden

Hedgehogs are considered the gardener’s friend as they help to keep pests such as slugs, caterpillars and snails in check so remember never to use slug pellets or any poisons in your wildlife garden. You may want to help your hedgehogs fatten up for the winter by supplementary feeding. Never feed bread and milk, as hedgehogs can not digest the bread and they can not cope with the lactose in milk. Instead feed tinned or dry dog food or cat food (not fish flavoured), chopped cheese, peanuts, meat, sultanas and raisins, but don’t give any processed food like bacon or corned beef as this type of food contains too much salt. Don’t forget to provide a fresh supply of water too. Keep the food under a platform or in a feeding station so other animals or pets can’t get at it.

By also providing a hedgehog nesting box you may be lucky enough to have one hibernate in your garden this winter! You can buy these from commercial outlets or even have a go at making one yourself. If you do have hedgehog visitors remember to be aware of hazards or other dangers, such as ponds and drains. Keep a rocky outcrop or slopes around the ponds edge, allowing any unfortunate hedgehogs (or other small creatures) the opportunity to clamber out should they be unlucky enough to fall in. Keep all drains covered and make sure there are no slug pellets or poisons anywhere. If you plan to have a bonfire, check it first for sleeping hedgehogs, as for them a big piles of logs is the perfect hiding place. Better still move the bonfire or build it only a few hours before lighting. If you go to any bonfire events you can help by finding out whether they have done a’ hedgehog’ check to make people aware of the dangers.

Hedgehog

Did you know…?
  • A hedgehog can have up to 7000 spines which are made from Keratin, the same stuff as hair and nails
  • Hedgehogs have been around for 15 million years!
  • Hedgehogs are born spineless but they start to appear just 2 – 3 minutes after being born
  • The name hedgehog came into use around the year 1450 and is derived from ‘hedge’ as it frequents hedgerows and ‘hog’ from its pig-like snout
  • If a hedgehog is sick or stressed its spines can fall out
  • In 1974 a resident on the island of Uist in Scotland introduced a few hedgehogs from the mainland into his garden to help control snails and slugs. Within a few years these multiplied to over 5000 hedgehogs! These hedgehogs in turn ate rare birds eggs and there is now an action plan to remove all hedgehogs to the mainland, which is proving successful.
Written by Sharon Roberts

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