The hedgehog

This week’s article discusses the European Hedgehog, an animal that although is not an endangered species is an animal that is rapidly declining in the UK. The European Hedgehog is one of sixteen species but the only one native to the UK, it is often referred to as the ‘common’ hedgehog. They are the biggest and heaviest of all the species. They gained their name ‘hedgehog’ through their foraging habits. They root through hedges and natural debris to find insects while making a sound similar to pigs. Hedgehogs are solitary and nocturnal creatures that hibernate throughout the winter, about now (mid to late March) they should be emerging from their slumber.

 

Here are some interesting facts about our humble hedgehog:

 

  • They have about 6000 individual spines that coat their body. Each spine is replaced every year.
  • Hedgehogs are known as the ‘gardeners friend’ as they eat slugs and pests.
  • Hedgehogs have very poor eyesight so rely heavily on their others senses. If they detect a very strong smell or taste they self anoint, covering their prickles in a type of saliva. No one knows why.
  • Hedgehogs, like many animals, are lactose intolerant. If you want to leave a drink out for our prickly friends water is best.
  • The first hedgehog was domesticated in 4BC. Now we keep African Pygmy hedgehogs as pets (not the European kind).

 

Hedgehogs produce a litter from June to August. The female alone will raise her ‘hoglets’; litter size ranges from one to ten. They are born blind with tiny spikes and they learn to roll into a ball at 11 days old. The lifespan of said creatures is about 10 years however; they normally do not survive past 3 years old, the most common cause of death being starvation. They are also prey for foxes, badgers and pine martens. Human error is also to blame, many die as road kill or under our bonfires and lawnmowers.

 

So now our hedgehogs are coming out of hibernation – how can you help them?

 

  • You can make a small hole in your garden fence as hedgehogs like to roam throughout the night. Man made walls and fences are stopping the hedgehogs from doing this. They are then forced to walk the streets (and more importantly, roads).
  • Check underneath your bonfire (or ideally move it) before you light it as they like to nest under the kindling for warmth.
  • Put out bowls of dry cat or dog food and water.
  • Check your lawn thoroughly before strimming or mowing.
  • Also if a hedgehog is acting unusually (they do not ‘sunbathe’ or act ‘drunk’), call your local animal rescue helpline. Many are brought in all year round.
  • Avoid using slug pellets and pesticides on your garden (not just for the sake of hedgehogs).

 

You can make your own hedgehog house to give them shelter, like this one:

http://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/projects/wildlife-gardening/how-to-make-a-hedgehog-house/145.html

 

Or purchase this fabulous one here:

http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/hogilo-hedgehog-house.html

 

And lastly … spread the word! This issue is not publicised very often, so the more you talk about it we may have a chance of saving one of our most iconic and friendly native mammals.

 

 

Here are some additional links for anyone particularly interested in the issue…

 

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/hedgehogs

http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/pages/help-hedgehogs.html

http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk

 

 

Unlike some animal species, for hedgehogs we can make a big difference. By encouraging them to come into your garden and keeping them out of harms way we may be able to see population numbers increasing soon!

 

Thank you for reading!

 

-Becky Cox

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