Sunday 7th October was a busy day for hedgehog lovers in Hampton. 21 families, and extras who arrived unexpectedly, spent an afternoon trying to answer this question helped by Tara Higgs, a Hedgehog Officer working with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Solihull Council. It was a chance to learn more about hedgepigs, hoglets, hibernation and how our village can help this threatened mammal. Shockingly hedgehog numbers have decreased from 30 million in the 1950’s to 1 million today. More than half of British people haven’t seen a hedgehog. The decline is 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas. These creatures need help and fast.
Tara began by giving tips on identifying 17 different species including the West European Hedgehogs we find in our gardens. Their colour can vary from dark brown to light brown to rare albinos. Spines have banded colours and a muscle around the edge of the spines helps the hedgehog to curl up and protect themselves. They can smell for miles and have good hearing. Usually nocturnal they like to eat worms, beetles, small slugs and snails, caterpillars and dead animals. Hedgehogs are opportunist eaters and diet changes throughout the year. A look at droppings helps find out what they are eating, black and shiny poo indicates insect casings.
A female hedgehog will give birth to 2 litters of hoglets each year and at this time late litters will be eating as much as possible to make themselves big enough to hibernate from November until April. When temperatures increase in spring the hedgehogs will wake up very hungry and need to eat immediately. They quickly become active and begin to look for a mate. Hedgehogs live 2-4 years in the wild and do not live in family groups.
Hedgehogs need to make or find nests where they can rest in summer and hibernate in winter. Each night they will travel 2-3 Km looking for food or a mate.
There are many reasons why hedgehogs are vanishing:
- The loss of habitat like hedges and untidy gardens etc.
- The use of pesticides, especially slug pellets, which removes food sources in gardens.
- Injuries from strimmers and other machinery in gardens.
- Unfavourable interspecies interactions e.g. hedgehogs will not thrive where badgers are prevalent.
- Habitats are fragmented so they cannot travel looking for food and each other.
Villagers can help by:
- Leaving a messy corner in gardens.
- Creating a log pile for wildlife.
- Checking bonfires carefully before lighting.
- Checking gardens before mowing or strimming.
- Make ponds safe – hedgehogs can swim but need a ramp to get out of the water.
- Don’t use slug pellets and other pesticides.
- Help safe hibernation by supplying suitable shelters.
- Link gardens and other areas and create hedgehog highways. It only requires a hole the size of a CD in the bottom of fences.
Remember hedgehogs need shelter, food, water, mates, connectivity, access and safety. If you want to feed hedgehogs in your garden only put out water and hedgehog food available from pet shops. Meat flavoured dry cat food can be used as a substitute.
Some villagers have been helping with hedgehog surveys and you may have seen black tunnels around. If you want to join in and help look for signs of hedgehog activity e.g. poo, footprints, nests and torchlight surveys at night. Hedgehog footprints look like hands. Please note and record date, time, location and any observations or evidence. This can then be taken to the Bakery (Sandwiches @ No 6) where Gill and Emma will make sure Tara receives the data.
Many thanks for your interest, support and continuing help. Together we can ensure Hampton is a hedgehog hotspot.