New homes for prickly friends

SUE SKINNER After an unseasonally warm autumn, many hedgehogs are still up and about - and facing a life and death struggle to find food.

SUE SKINNER

At this time of year, they should be tucked up somewhere snug and snoozing away the winter.

But after an unseasonally warm autumn, many hedgehogs are still up and about - and facing a life and death struggle to find food.

The East Winch Wildlife Centre, near King's Lynn, has been dealing with an unusually high number of prickly customers and now needs to find extra accommodation for them.

In October, the centre, which is run by the RSPCA, took in 95 ailing hedgehogs but the following month the number soared to 144.

The November influx included a number of small hedgehogs, which would have found it impossible to cope with the demands of hibernation.

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Manager Alison Charles said: “They are far too small to be able to manage it. You just can't put that much weight on in that amount of time if you're a hedgehog.

“It's very hard to say why they are so small. We guess it's because they have had late litters, but it is just guesswork.”

Thanks to a generous legacy from a supporter of the charity, who specifically wanted the money to benefit hedgehogs, there are plans to install 10 garden sheds at the centre, where the spiky casualties will be looked after in as natural an environment as possible.

The need for more room has been heightened by research into hedgehog rehabilitation, which has shown their prickliness goes beyond their appearance.

“They don't do very well in groups - they fight - and we had to divide them up into smaller groups and therefore need more accommodation,” explained Mrs Charles.

Some arrivals at the centre are beyond help but the hedgehogs which put on weight and recover are released back into the wild.

Hedgehogs do not sleep solidly throughout the winter and it is normal for them to wake up occasionally and have a forage around before going back to sleep.

Householders can give them a hand to survive the cold months by putting out water - not milk - and cat or dogfood.

They should phone the RSPCA (0870 55 55 999) or a local vet for advice if any are persistently around during the day.