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.
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 .
Copyright Fergals Images
Hedgehog facts: When hedgehogs are out to forage, they can travel for up to 2 miles.
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.
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.
Copyright Tomas Ruginis
Hedgehog Facts: If you will see multiple hedgehogs together, it is called an array.
Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators. During hibernation hedgehogs are not really asleep, hibernation in a method of reducing energy consumption where the hedgehog will lower their body temperature to match their surroundings, slow their breathing and heartbeats to a minimum. The metabolic rate and energy consumption drops to around 4% of the level of an active animal by mid winter and the hedgehog enters a state of torpor. This allows them to save a lot of energy when their normal food sources are not available. In captivity where food is regularly available hedgehogs will not hibernate regardless of temperature.
Hedgehogs hibernate in a winter nest which is normally more substantial than their summer nests. It is built in undergrowth , in piles of wood or under hedges . the walls and base of the nest are made from compacted leafs with a wall thickness up to 180mm. The hedgehog collects leaves at night and then takes them to the nest site. The hedgehog will make a new nest every year and most will collapse shortly after the hedgehog emerges in the spring. As with most wildlife our habit of discarding modern day packaging is having a knock on effect with two local nests also including potato crisp packets included in the nesting material.
In the UK , hedgehogs usually hibernate from October/November through to March/April however the exact length of an individual hedgehogs hibernation will vary according to it’s size and physical condition , weather and the availability of food. Hibernation in the UK normally lasts for between 140 to 160 days but it’s not a continuous process and the hedgehog will wake up every 10 days or so for a few hours. During this brief time you may see a hedgehog out and about and individual hedgehogs may even move nesting sites during this period . so in actual fact a hedgehog only spends around 75 to 80 % of it’s time in deep hibernation. Hedgehogs lose between 20 to 30 % of their body mass during hibernation , for a normal adult this equals around 150 to 175 g of fat so its unlikely any adult entering hibernation with a body weight less than 500 g will survive the winter.
Copyright Fergals Images
Hedgehog Facts: Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so milk should never be left out for them
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 !
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
Thank you to the following photographers for the kind use of their images in this blog. Trevor Lay , Tomas Ruginus and Fergals Images.
©️ Wildonline 2022
We don’t have hedgehogs but they are soo cute, just got a couple of hedgehog stuffed animals for the grandkids!
We currently have four wild hedgehogs hibernating in our garden. They are real caricatures and can sometimes be very grumpy. Even our visiting foxes give them a wide berth.
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How cute! I didn’t know they were grumpy, good info! My DIL is from the UK, her parents live in Hove now, I’ll have to ask if they see them too.