One of Britain's favourite animals, the Hedgehog, has declined dramatically in recent years with around a third of the national population lost since the millennium. In 2020, hedgehog were listed as ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’ on the UK red list for mammals. Hedgehog populations are declining in both rural and urban areas, however, data suggests a stable urban population that might be recovering, which may be as a result of local action in these areas.
Autumn is an important time for hedgehogs, but it can be extremely dangerous. This is because Hedgehogs need to build up fat reserves in ready for hibernation. Piles of leaves or logs can be the perfect hibernation sites, but with Bonfire night approaching these can be dangerous places. Luckily, there are things we can do to help.
The best thing to do is build the bonfire on the day to prevent any hedgehogs from moving in. If this is not possible, then move the entire bonfire a few metres just before lighting. Always check thoroughly before lighting, as it is not just hedgehogs that might be present. Amphibians, reptiles and even some pets like to hide in these structures. Instead of having a bonfire, you might decide to create a log or leave pile that may attract a hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have two litters in the year. It is important for any late summer or autumn hoglets to be big enough to survive their first hibernation. We can help by supplement feeding with a meaty cat dry food. You can do this by creating a feeding station, to ensure the hedgehogs are the only ones who can get access to the food. Remember to clean the feeding stations regularly to reduce the spread of disease. You can find more information about feeding hedgehogs here (https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/feed-hedgehogs/)
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and if seen in the daytime, this may mean they need help. If you see a hedgehog at night it is best to leave them alone. It can cause stress to handle them in order to weigh them, so always seek advice from an experience hedgehog rehabilitator. If you are concerned about a small hedgehog or a hedgehog out in the day contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/) or Wildlife Aid Foundation (https://www.wildlifeaid.org.uk/ ).
By the end of November and into December, most hedgehogs should be in hibernation. They usually hibernate until March/April. Hedgehogs do occasionally awake from hibernation during periods of milder weather in order to forage for food. However, it can be dangerous for them to wake up unexpectedly, so make sure to be careful of any disturbance that could be caused by gardening or your pet dogs.
To find out more about hedgehogs and what you can do to help visit Hedgehog Street (https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/)
As veterinary professionals, we have a duty to provide first aid and pain relief to all species, including wild animals. Therefore, if you are concerned about an injured wild animal, we may be able to help. However, we do not have the facilities to care for them long term and would need to transfer them to a suitable wildlife facility.
Our closest wildlife rescue and hospital is Wildlife Aid Foundation in Leatherhead.
24hr helpline: 01372 360404
Visit their website for more information and for frequently asked questions: https://www.wildlifeaid.org.uk/
Our next blog post in this series will focus on how we can all do more to help wildlife as we start the New Year. If there is anything in particular you would like to know about wildlife, please get in touch below.