How you can help the hedgehogs get ready for hibernation
PUBLISHED: 12:04 18 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:04 18 November 2018
The dark nights are upon us and there's a chill in the air, but there's still time to help the local hedgehogs before they cosy up for the winter.
Every evening for the last couple of months we’ve had a prickly visitor to our garden. Mealworms and water positioned in prime viewing position in front of our patio doors, me and hubby Matt constantly check to see if our guest has arrived.
He is, of course, a hedgehog – I say “he”, but in fact I have no idea whether our spiky friend should be called Mrs Tiggywinkle or Sonic. These nocturnal visits are something we’ve been lucky enough to witness for several years – a little bit of the wild in our tiny suburban garden.
We try hard to make them feel welcome, with a dedicated hedgehog hole in our garden gate as well as food and drink. Various hedgehog groups, such as the Hedgehog Preservation Society and Hedgehog Street have been working to push the message that opening up our gardens is one of the best ways to help the species, and according to The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 report, it’s paying off. While numbers in the countryside are in massive decline (falling by half in rural areas over the last two decades), the urban population seems to be slowly increasing.
There’s certainly more evidence of them around our estate. As well as our regular visitor, we rescued two young hedgehogs back in September. The first was wandering around in the road outside my son Finley’s school at pick-up time – if a hog is out in daylight it’s an immediate sign that something’s not right! The second was a matter of days later while on a walk. Sadly, it was in a much poorer state, covered in fly eggs and very cold.
Luckily, the wonderful people at Hallswood Animal Sanctuary, which is based in Stratton Strawless, took both the hedgehogs in to be treated and looked after – something which they have done for 340 animals this year in the dedicated hogspital.
“We started fundraising in 2017 for a dedicated hogspital to try and keep up with the increasing numbers coming in,” says Maria Thornberg, fundraising manager at Hallswood. “The centre opened in October last year, but it wasn’t properly finished until this year – we just had so many hedgehogs coming in that we had no choice but to start using it.”
And it came just in time, as this year has been relentless, with the hot summer making conditions very difficult for hedgehogs.
“We usually have a few brought in around the spring when they come out of hibernation, then it’s pretty quiet until the autumn. But this year there doesn’t seem to have been a let-up. It’s fantastic that there are so many about, the sad bit is that so many are struggling and need help.”
Maria and the team are still getting an average of eight to 10 hedgehogs a day coming in, many of which are too small to gain the amount of weight they need to survive hibernation, and will therefore spend the winter at Hallswood before being released next spring.
“We used to work to a magic number of 600 grams, but now we’re thinking 450-500 is a more realistic figure,” says Maria. “When space is at a premium and you’re getting hedgehogs in which weigh 200 grams, you have to make difficult decisions on which ones to keep.”
There are a few easy ways to tell if you need to intervene and help a hedgehog, the first is if you see one wandering about in the daytime, especially if it’s small. There are some situations when a hedgehog might be fine when out in the day, however, such as if its nesting spot has been disturbed by gardening activity.
The other time to worry is if you see a small hedgehog at night – Maria suggests anything that is smaller than a large grapefruit won’t be able to put on the extra weight it needs to get through the winter.
In either of these situations, it’s always best to pick up the phone and call a sanctuary for advice.
The trigger to hibernate is based on temperature rather than a specific time of year, and it hasn’t been consistently cold enough yet. So what can we do to help in these last few precious weeks?
Open up your garden
“Access to gardens is so important,” says Maria. “More and more homes have secure gardens with cement frames which leave nowhere for the hedgehogs to get in, forcing them out onto the roads instead of moving safely between gardens. Cutting a small gap in the fence is a simple thing that everyone can do which will make a massive difference.”
Keep on feeding
Maria also says to keep feeding for as long as the nocturnal visits continue, and also if you notice any hedgehog activity during the winter, as they do sometimes wake up for a snack.
You don’t have to buy special expensive hedgehog food; cat or dog food is absolutely fine – chicken in jelly is ideal, and best to avoid gravy and fish as these can upset their delicate tummies.
And don’t forget to provide water!
Make them feel at home
“Our gardens are all a bit neat,” says Maria. “If you can bear to leave a corner untidy, with some leaves and branches, then the hedgehogs will make their own nests.”
Hedgehog houses are also widely available to buy in garden centres for around £30, while the avid DIYer could probably make one pretty easily – there are plenty of guides online.
We decided to buy one. It’s a great thing to do with kids – Finley loved helping to gather the leaves for nesting material and finding the perfect spot for the hedgehog house in our garden.
We’ve all got our fingers crossed that Mrs Tiggywinkle/Sonic will make himself/herself at home!
No time? No garden?
You can still help. It costs a lot to look after all the animals that Hallswood Animal Sanctuary takes in, and one of the best ways you can support them is by popping along to the Hallswood Christmas Fair on December 1, 11am-1pm at Hellesdon High School.
There will be lots of Christmas gifts, bargains, games and even the chance to meet some animals from the sanctuary.