Watch out for hedgehogs at this time of the year

When I was a child we often took in small hedgehogs that still weren’t in hibernation at this time of the year. I have a distinct memory of one hedgehog running around in the living room under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day, he had never gone into hibernation.

Hedgehogs are a protected species in Europe under the Bern Convention, loss of their natural habitat e. g. due to infrastructure works, loss of woodlands, intensive farming, urbanisation have been leading to their decline. The UK sees a rapid decline in numbers, estimated at around 30% since 2002 , there are no figures available for Ireland but patterns are probably similar.

Who wouldn’t want one of these spiky animals in the garden as the best natural pest control (they love slugs)? We can all help to make a more inviting habitat for them, also to hibernate, by creating an ‘untidy’ corner, maybe beside the compost. Simply an area with lots of leaves and maybe a few old logs. This will help our friendly little helpers to make a nest during daytime hours and of course for the winter. Not to forget that they need quite a large area and need to be able to get in and out of the garden, so leave a little gap in the fencing somewhere.

Late autumn is the time of year where you will find smaller animals desperately looking for food in gardens and parks at dusk and sometimes even during daytime hours. These small hedgehogs will probably not survive winter as they don’t have enough fat reserves to get through hibernation. If you do come across a small animal (under 600g) carefully pick up the spiky ball they form when they feel threatened instead of running away. You can either bring them to a Vet or a special rescue centre like Hedgehog Rescue in the UK or Irish Wildlife Matters or Hedgehog Rescue Dublin in Ireland (all sites provide plenty of advice too) – or maybe you want to look after them yourself over the winter if you happen to have some space in the shed or in the garage?

                If you do decide to give a hedgehog shelter don’t forget that a lot of them have parasites, if they don’t gain weight, either see a vet or contact a rescue place. Maybe it’s worms that can be treated relatively easily.

Most of the hedgehogs we would have helped through the winter have gone into hibernation after a couple of weeks of feeding in their small boarded off area. We usually fed them with wet and dry cat food (always keep water & dry food in a bowl in case they wake up from hibernation), the odd bowl of mealworms from the pet shop or raw meatballs with added vitamin drops. After a few weeks of eating they would normally retreat into their shoebox filled with crunched up newspaper to hibernate. There was just the one hedgehog who never did. He would make noises as soon as he heard anyone approach his little area. As he was so friendly and wouldn’t roll up into a spiky ball at all when he was picked up, we eventually brought him up to the living room a couple of evenings a week so he could stretch is legs by running around and get some freedom from the confined space where we couldn’t let him out without him escaping. This is where I remember him: running under the Christmas tree and hide under discarded wrapping paper.

He was a fine big hedgehog when we released him in the garden the following spring – there have been hedgehogs in the garden ever since. Sometimes during long summer evenings in the garden when it is still bright outside and when conversations get a little louder, hedgehogs make loud noises, presumably to complain about being disturbed in their sleep.

Have you seen a hedgehog lately?