Prickly problems as animal sanctuary cares for 450 rescued hedgehogs
- Credit: Archant
They are undoubtedly one of Britain's favourite animals, but a Norfolk sanctuary has been inundated with a record number of prickly residents.
Efforts to save them from the winter chill has seen 450 young hedgehogs too small to hibernate brought for specialist care at the People for Animal Care Trust (PACT) Sanctuary.
The number is up on the 380 cared for last winter and 320 the year before, with people bringing them in at the rate of 15 a day in December.
Nursing them through until spring costs the sanctuary, which is based in Woodrising, near Dereham, about £25,000 a year. It starts in September and goes thorough until about April or May.
George Rockingham, from Hingham, who co-founded PACT, the largest all-animal sanctuary and rescue centre in Norfolk and Suffolk, said: "We have three people working full-time morning until night just looking after the 450 hedgehogs that we are keeping awake and warm enough that they don't go to sleep.
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"They are typically about the size of a cricket ball when they come in and the size of a rugby ball when they leave."
Mr Rockingham said lack of food and changing weather that meant hedgehogs were giving birth later were among the factors behind the rise in the number they were caring for.
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He said: "If you see a small hedgehog going into winter it is obviously not going to make the hibernation if it is not 450-600g.
"The problem with the weather we are having with climate change is we might get three weeks of warm weather with no rain in October therefore hedgehogs produce another set of babies but they don't have enough time to grow large enough to go through a cold winter in hibernation."
Despite more young hedgehogs being rescued overall numbers have sharply declined. "In 1950 there were 35 million hedgehogs in the UK, there is now about 500,000. They are disappearing fast for all sorts of reasons," he added.
PACT is currently appealing for blankets and towels to help with its care for the spiky winter visitors who will eventually be released back into the wild.
Mr Rockingham said: "Everyone loves hedgehogs. It's probably the Miss Tinkle Winkle effect.
"If someone who brings one in wants them back they get it back, or we have a farmer who lets us release them on about 3,000 acres. We have a wood where we can release them and let them set off."