After several months’ absence from our gardens, one of our most popular and familiar mammals is once again out and about, driven by the urge to feed on tasty worms and insects. The hibernation cycle of hedgehogs depends upon temperature and the prevailing weather and can start as early as late October. Hibernation usually draws to a close around the end of March and the beginning of April, meaning that those of us lucky enough to live in an active hedgehog territory have the opportunity to see them once again.
Whilst in hibernation a hedgehog’s heartrate drops as low as 10% of the usual level and its core temperature drops from around 35 degrees to just 10. They also lower their breathing rate, perhaps only taking a breath every few minutes. In some countries the temperature never drops low enough for long enough to trigger hibernation, and as our climate continues to change it is possible that UK hedgehogs may skip hibernation if the temperature suits and they can find enough food through the winter. The difficulty faced by hedgehogs is that whilst our temperature continues to shift, periods of fluctuating temperature in winter may cause them to wake from hibernation for longer than they can sustain, causing them to use up vital energy reserves.
Considering that hedgehog numbers in our countryside have halved in the last 20 years due to impacts including habitat loss, pesticide use and deaths on roads, urban hedgehog populations could offer a glimmer of hope for hedgehog numbers generally. The more welcoming we can make our gardens the better the future for these cherished animals. It is best to avoid the use of pesticides and slug pellets, instead using methods such as ‘beer traps’ to control slugs. If you have a pond to attract wildlife, make sure there is an escape route for hedgehogs and if you have fences all the way around your garden, make sure that they can get in and out by creating a ‘hedgehog hole’ at ground level — asking neighbours to do the same.
If you want to give hedgehogs a further helping hand, consider installing a hedgehog house and if you’d like to feed them, a saucer of meat-based cat or dog food is ideal, perhaps served on a tray of damp sand so that you can check the foot prints to the see if it’s being eaten by a prickly pal rather than next door’s moggy!
Spring Gathering at Idle Valley Nature Reserve
Join us at our largest nature reserve, just a few minutes from Retford, as we celebrate springtime wildlife with walks, talks, demonstrations and family activities on Sunday 17th May from 9.30am to 3.30pm. For further details visit www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/events.
For further information on hedgehogs, please visit: www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/wildlife.
Images © Gillian Day, Tim Sexton, Nick Upton, Amy Lewis