The hedgehog population has reached crisis point and we must all do what we can to reverse the rapid decline in numbers, preserving these important little creatures for the benefit of future generations. As most gardeners know, as well as being enchanting little creatures they are also invaluable in controlling pests such as slugs and caterpillars in crops.
Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators. During hibernation hedgehogs drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor. This allows them to save energy and slow down all bodily functions, making normal activity impossible. While in hibernation hedgehogs’ energy is drawn from the fat stores they build up after the breeding season and before Winter arrives. Therefore a supply of fresh food, clean water and sympathetic gardening throughout the year will greatly assist the survival of these precious little creatures.
Any disturbance during hibernation can be extremely dangerous, as hedgehogs use up their precious energy reserves in order to become active again. IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO ENSURE THAT PILES OF GARDEN RUBBISH ARE NOT IGNITED WITH HEDGEHOGS SHELTERING BELOW – AT ANY TIME OF THE YEAR.
If the weather remains warm during the Winter months, hibernation becomes intermittent, if not impossible. Hedgehogs will then draw rapidly on their body reserves heading towards starvation and disease as their normal sources of food will not be available. It’s very sad to see hedgehogs dying from starvation venturing out during the Winter. A comfortable temperature for hedgehogs to hibernate effectively is around 5 degrees C, but wet or freezing conditions as well as disturbance, spells disaster.
During very hot dry weather, it is important to keep a supply of clean, fresh water and food easily accessible; hedgehogs will eat tinned cat or dog meat (preferably in jelly) but do not feed any fish based product; dry* cat or dog food is also acceptable (*this will also help them to keep their teeth clean). Ideally, any tinned food should be put out after dusk. Dried food specifically designed for hedgehogs is also available locally.
Whatever you do, please DO NOT feed hedgehogs bread and milk– as this will make them very ill and possibly kill them.
Please bear in mind that if hedgehogs are seen out in the daytime, then something could be seriously wrong and they might be sick or, injured and in urgent need of help. A fit and healthy hedgehog should appear round, plump and active. Before hibernation, an adult hedgehog should weigh around 600gms or more, to survive hibernation in ideal conditions – conditions which we have not seen for many years.
****Sick or injured hedgehogs should be carefully placed in a box (so that they don’t waddle off into the undergrowth to die a slow death), while you go off to phone the GSPCA on 01481 257261 or Guernsey Hedgehog Rescue on 07781 144250 for advice. The GSPCA and Guernsey Hedgehog Rescue are always available with expert advice and assistance.
The link below will take you to interesting information about hedgehog hibernation etc.