Wildlife assistant Lou Jones with one of the hedgehogs being cared for at the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Cold snap halts hedgehog release programme at Norfolk RSPCA centre

Monday, January 14, 2013
11.04 AM

As a cold snap grips the county, staff at an RSPCA centre near King’s Lynn are carefully monitoring the weather on behalf of their prickly patients.

The East Winch Wildlife Centre is still caring for more than 150 rescued hedgehogs after the chilly turn put a stop to their release programme.

Hedgehogs freed now would be unlikely to survive the freezing conditions, so temperatures need to rise before any more can be safely returned to the wild.

Administrator Sue Levings said timing it right could mean the difference between life and death for newly released creatures trying to find their feet.

“We have managed to release 53 hedgehogs so far this month because the weather has been exceptionally warm,” she said.

“Ideally, we need it to be mild for about five days so once they are released the hedgehogs have time to find some food and make a nest before hibernating for the rest of the winter.

“We keep a very close eye on the weather so they have the best chance of survival when they are back out there and fending for themselves.”

Staff were inundated with sick and underweight hedgehogs in the autumn and the number of new cases did not start to slow until mid-December.

Last year saw 921 hedgehogs admitted to the Station Road centre and at its peak it was caring for more than 200.

Some of those taken in needed treatment for lungworm, but many were simply too small to survive the winter without a helping hand.

To hibernate successfully, hedgehogs need to weigh between 550g and 600g – but some of the most poorly juveniles arrived weighing little more than 100g.

As the temperatures regularly drop below freezing, members of the public are being asked to keep an eye out for small hedgehogs who look unwell.

Larger hedgehogs who look healthy would also benefit from cat or dog food and fresh water being left out at this time.

When the weather is warm enough, the team will release more hedgehogs into the gardens of volunteers who provide food and keep a close eye out.

Hedgehogs can be sponsored for £20, which covers the cost of their care before they are released back into the wild.

Visit www.rspca-eastwinch-wildlifecentre.co.uk or call 0300 123 0709 during office hours.