Monthly column: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Hedgehog eating food. Photo supplied from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

This month, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Rachel Shaw writes about hedgehogs and being aware of our spiky friends on bonfire night.

Hedgehogs are instantly recognizable with their protective coat of spines and ability to roll into a tight ball when threatened.

A hedgehog snuggling among fallen leaves. Photo by Tom Marshall. Supplied by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

However, autumn can be a dangerous time for these endearing mammals.

While many animals have adapted to cope with the harsh conditions of winter, hedgehogs are one of only a handful of UK mammals that hibernate, along with bats and dormice. Depending on the weather and their body condition, they enter a state of torpor from October/November until March/April, lowering their body temperature and slowing their metabolism to save energy. Piles of logs and leaves make great places for hedgehogs to hibernate. Unfortunately what looks to a hedgehog to be an ideal hibernation site, can be a death trap – bonfires.

Before lighting a bonfire always check for hedgehogs and other animals, including pets. Ideally make your pile of material next to the bonfire site and re-build the stack prior to lighting or build the bonfire as close to the night as possible to reduce the chance of a hedgehog moving in. Before lighting, search the bonfire for animals using a torch and broom handle or stick, to gently pull back twigs or vegetation.

Remember you don’t have to clear away or burn all of the fallen leaves, twigs and branches in your garden. Pile them up in a quiet corner and you may attract a sleepy hedgehog for the winter.

Before their hibernation, hedgehogs need to feed intensively and be in great condition. If they are underfed and too small, they may not have enough reserves to last the winter. Famous for eating slugs and snails, hedgehogs also eat beetles, earthworms, caterpillars and other invertebrates, and they cover a large area in their search for food.

If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog visiting your garden, you may think of it as your hedgehog. In reality, it’s the neighbourhood’s hedgehog. An adult hedgehog can travel 1–2km per night over their home range of 10-20 hectares. To help them move between gardens get together with your neighbours to cut a 13cm x 13cm (5 inch) holes in your fences or dig channels beneath garden boundaries to connect your gardens. This will allow hedgehogs to roam in search of food. Estimated roughly to number about 30 million in the 1950s, there are now thought to be fewer than 1 million hedgehogs left in the UK. Small changes we can all make in our gardens will make a big difference.

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