Meet the Model – Hetty the Hedgehog

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Copyright Fergals Images

Say hello to Hetty the Hedgehog ( Erinaceus europaeus )

The Hedgehog is one of Britain’s favorite small mammals,once common in our towns and villages but now very much under threat from development and habitat loss. Small , round and covered in spines the nocturnal Hedgehog is an unmistakable animal seen in our gardens, parks and hedgerows during spring and summer, and is widespread throughout the British mainland. Hedgehogs can be found across most of western Europe.

Hedgehog Facts: Studies show a drop of around 30% of the population since 2002 and there are now fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK. Hedgehogs are declining in the UK at the same rate as tigers are globally.

Reproduction

Hedgehogs reach sexual maturity in their second year of life, and after this can breed every year until death. Reproduction occurs any time between April and September, but the period of greatest activity, ‘the rut’, occurs in May and June in Britain.Hedgehogs normally have only one litter of four to six babies per year. The baby hedgehogs or Urchins / hoglets are born after a 35 day pregnancy and arrive in the world blind and deaf. The mother raises the urchins in a maternity nest , normally leafs , under a hedgerow or in urban areas under a shed or outbuilding. The urchins are born with their first set of spines covered by a thin skin. As soon as they are born the spines start to come through the skin , by day 14 the eyes and ears have opened and at 8 weeks the urchins are ready to leave their mother and gain independence. The male hedgehog plays no role in raising the young and can be a danger to his own offspring .

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Copyright Fergals Images

Hedgehog facts: When hedgehogs are out to forage, they can travel for up to 2 miles.

Diet

Hedgehogs are generalists and feed on a wide range of invertebrates, worms , beetles , slugs , caterpillars, earwigs and millipedes.They also eat a wide range of other insects and will infrequently take adavantage of carrion , frogs , baby birds, bird eggs and fallen fruit.

Hedgehog Facts: There are 17 species of hedgehog.

Predators

Badgers are the principal natural predator of hedgehogs in the UK, as they are the only creature strong enough to overcome the spiny defences. Hedgehogs have been shown to actively avoid areas where badgers are present, and in areas where badger densities are high, hedgehogs are likely to be less common. Badger populations have increased significantly in recent years but there is little evidence to suggest that badgers are the principal driver of our hedgehog decline. Foxes are known to occasionally hunt hedgehogs, though usually an adult hedgehog will be sufficiently protected by its spines.Tawny owls and golden eagles are also known to very occasionally hunt for hedgehogs in Britain.

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Copyright Tomas Ruginis

Hedgehog Facts: If you will see multiple hedgehogs together, it is called an array.

Hibernation

Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators. During hibernation hedgehogs are not really asleep, instead they drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor. This allows them to save a lot of energy but slows down all other bodily functions making normal activity impossible.Hedgehogs usually hibernate from October/November through to March/April. Individual hedgehogs can move nesting sites at least once during this period and so can sometimes be seen out and about. During mild winters hedgehogs can remain active well into November and December.

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Copyright Fergals Images

Hedgehog Facts: Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so milk should never be left out for them

Conservation

Hedgehogs have some protection under Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act(WCA) 1981, which prohibits killing and trapping by certain methods, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and Appendix III of the ‘Bern’ Convention. In 2007, they were made a priority species as part of the former UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

The decline in hedgehog numbers in both urban and rural areas has many contributing factors . with modern farming practices leading to larger sized fields and a reduction to the number of hedgerows , the hedgehog is suffering from a lack of natural nesting sites. The use of pesticides is also reducing the number of invertebrates , a key part of a hedgehogs diet. The growth of the Badger population , the hedgehogs main natural predator has also had an effect on numbers.

In urban areas the problem with decline is mostly down to development. Secure garden fencing limits the area of foraging land available. Gardens are increasingly being lost to car parking and garden decking. Our desire for tidy well managed gardens removes the scubby areas covered with brambles and reduces the nesting sites available. The use of pesticides and slug pellets also reduces the amount of natural food available to the hedgehog.

 

Hedgehog Facts: Hedgehogs have between 5-6,000 spines which are hollow and made of Keratin , the same material as a human fingernail !

 

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Copyright Trevor Lay

Hedgehog Facts: The male is called a ‘boar’ and the female a ‘sow’.

Where to find out more

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society was founded in 1982 and offers help and advice to anyone with a sick, injured or orphaned hedgehog. It maintains a list of rehabilitation centres in the UK
http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk telephone helpline 01584 890 801

St Tiggywinkles , founder in 1978 by Les and Sue Stocker, one of the world’s leading wildlife hospitals.
http://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk telephone number 01844 292 292

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Thank you to the following photographers for the kind use of their images in this blog. Trevor Lay , Tomas Ruginus and Fergals Images.

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