The hedgehog is one of our most popular and instantly-recognised mammals.
They are born covered only in skin, developing white spines soon after birth which are quickly replaced by the brown spines with which we are all familiar. Fossils suggest that hedgehog-like creatures have been on the Earth for about 15 million years.
The hedgehog’s diet is varied consisting of insects, slugs, snails, worms and caterpillars and anything else they find palatable. They are active mainly at night and may travel miles in search of food, which they locate with their well-developed senses of hearing and smell. During the day they will usually sleep in a quiet hedge or an out of the way spot in a garden.
From roughly around late October to early April hedgehogs hibernate, during which time their metabolism comes almost to a standstill. They may however wake up on warm days and sometimes even leave their nests. To survive the winter it is crucial for them to build up their weight in autumn, as any hedgehog weighing less than a pound will not survive.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust is concerned that hedgehogs appear to be suffering from a dramatic decline in numbers and is running a campaign to find out more. Although hedgehogs are very popular visitors to our gardens, the Trust’s 2010 Hedgehog Survey showed that fewer of our gardens are being visited by this charming animal. The causes of this apparent decline are not yet clear but the loss of hedgerows and small woodlands accompanied by the effects of modern agriculture are likely to be major contributors. There are a number of steps that we can all take to help boost hedgehog numbers.
The Trust advises that to help hedgehogs, areas of the garden should be left rough, as over-tidiness reduces places to shelter and available natural food. When hedgehogs are out and about, small amounts of food can be provided to supplement their natural diet and enable hedgehog watching at dusk. Rather than bread and milk, which are harmful to hedgehogs, try dog or cat food or raw minced meat, together with a bowl of drinking water. Having a hog-sized gap in your garden fence enables animals to successfully forage by moving with ease between gardens.
Hedgehogs also need all the help they can get to survive cold winters and somewhere safe to hibernate is essential. You can provide log piles in a secluded corner and may well be rewarded with your very own resident animal.
Please tell us where you’ve seen a hedgehog – visit our website www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org – and use our hedgehog survey map to tell us if you spot a hedgehog, have seen a hedgehog in the past two years, see a dead hedgehog, find hedgehog droppings or have found no recent evidence of hedgehogs.