UK Hedgehog Conservation, and encouraging wildlife to your Garden

Wild Hedgehog credit Mats Eriksson

Todays Diary is sponsored by Spike’s World– producers of wildlife foods and amazing products for chickens.

Wild Hedgehog credit Mats Eriksson
© Mats Eriksson

With the hot weather now after the rain we have experienced I’ve decided that I should do something on Hedgehogs and wildlife in the Garden. One of the most common animals that is seen at UK Wildlife Rescue Centres is the Hedgehog, especially at this time of year. Many people know the back of a hedgehog is covered in spines and that they roll up into a ball when they are frightened. There are some interesting lesser known facts which I will cover here as well as how to tell if a hedgehog needs help, and how you can encourage them into your garden.

Hedgehogs are rapidly declining in numbers, however they are in fact very good for the garden especially if you grow your own vegetables! The hedgehog is an insect eater with beetles, caterpillars, earthworms and slugs being their main food item. They are a nocturnal animal that can travel up to 2 miles a night so your hedgehog may visit multiple gardens each night on its travels.

A common belief is that a saucer of cows milk should be left out for your hedgehog, this is actually bad for them and cause stomach ache and diarrhea (this is because milk contains lactose, which in digested by the enzyme lactase which hedgehogs lack). Instead leave out a saucer of water, especially impiortant with the hot dry weather we have been having!

Newborn Hoglet at East Sussex WRAS
Newborn spineless Hoglet on July 24th cared for by East Sussex WRAS photo used with permission

Hedgehog babies are usually called Hoglets, and the average litter size is four to five with a pregnancy lasting around 32 days. They are usually born in May, June or July with more litters born in August-September. During pregnancy if there is a shortage of food a pregnant hedgehog can go into hibernation again which will slow down the development of the embryos by the amount of days hibernating.  Hoglets are born bald with the spikes under the skin covered by a layer of fluid.

Few hour old hedgehog (hoglet) with spines erupting
Newborn Hoglet with grey spines a few hours after birth on July 24th at East Sussex WRAS photo used with permission

The spines of the hedgehog start to come through within a few hours of birth, the initial spines are white however within 36 hours of birth brown spines have started to appear. By the time the hedgehog is fifteen days old barely any white spines are left visible. The spines will be shed and continue growing throughout the hedgehogs life just like humans hair keeps growing.

A hedgehog can roll up into a ball when it is scared, no other mammal can do this so completely and effectively. This is because the hedgehog has a muscle called the muscularis orbicularis which runs around the entire hedgehog along the bottom of their spines. The hedgehog uses the muscles in its back (the panniculus) to roll up and then the orbicularis acts like a drawstring on a bag to draw the spines around the hedgehog into a tight ball.

How to encourage hedgehogs (and other wildlife) into your garden.
The easiest way to encourage hedgehogs into your garden is by keeping a corner of the garden wild, and if possible adding a pile of old logs for hedgehogs to hide in. You should also leave a saucer of water, and a saucer of meaty pet food (or specialised hedgehog food). You can build a feeding station by cutting a 5″x5″ hole into the side of a plastic mushroom box or childs toy box. Placing this over the saucer will prevent cats and other animals stealing the food, and placing a brick on top will hold it in position.

Ponds or pools should have a slopping ramp out for hedgehogs (and other wildlife) to use to escape. They can swim pretty well, however cannot escape steep slippy sided ponds or pools without help. Also avoid using slug pellets and pesticides which can poison hedgehogs and remove their food source they rely on. And check your garden grass and hedges thoroughly before mowing or using a strimmer as these can cause serious injuries to hedgehogs.

How to tell if a Hedgehog needs help?
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so seeing them out during the day is usually a sign that something is wrong. Ophaned hoglets which are out of the nest in the day or when the nest has been destroyed with the mothed killed or injured need help. If a hedgehog has visible injuries such as wounds, bites, burns, or been trapped in some way or dog attack. If a hedgehog is unsteady on its feet (wobbing, rocking) or has flies around them they also need help. Baby hedgehogs known as Autumn Juveniles in late October also need help as they will not have the energy reserves to hibernate over winter.

If a hedgehog is in need of help keep it warm in a high sided box well lined with newspaper with water available. Contact your nearest hedgehog carer or rescue center listed here http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/carers.htm for advice immediately.

Hedgehog Conservation Schemes
The most popular Hedgehog Conservation Scheme (and a good source for more information on making your garden hedgehog friendly) is the Hedgehog Street run by the the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s trust for endangered species. Their website is http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/.

Today’s diary has been sponsored by Spike’s World, producers of wildlife foods and amazing products for chickens.
Spike’s World are producers of the first ever range of foods specially formulated for hedgehogs, as well as Esbilac milk replacement for juvenile hedgehogs which is used by many wildlife hospitals and hedgehog carers. They are listed in the Vet Pack provided by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and their food is also listed in the BHPS catalogue. In addition to the hedgehog products Spike’s World also supply food for wildlife along with a range of chicken feeds and accessories. The website is http://www.spikesworld.co.uk/ and you can find them on twitter at @SpikesWorldLtd.