Each month we focus on a species of wildlife that is being helped by Fair to Nature farming…
It’s the time of year, as the temperature outside starts to warm up, hedgehogs are beginning to rouse from hibernation.
A most familiar garden visitor, the hedgehog has declined alarmingly in recent years, not only through a loss of suitable habitat but also a range of other hazards directly or indirectly linked to human activity.
The hedgehog got it’s name from it’s habit of rooting around in the bottom of hedges, looking for food, and grunting like a hog!
The hedgehog’s back is made up of two large muscles, which control the positioning of its quills. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 quills on the average adult hedgehog, and these are strong on the outer surface, but filled with air pockets on the inside. The hedgehog uses its quills to protect itself from predators, using muscles which draw their quilled skin to cover their full body, and pulling in the parts of their bodies not covered, such as their head, feet, and belly. This form of defence is the hedgehog’s most successful, but is usually their last resort and completely ineffective against a most frequent predator, the motor car!
Babies are born in litters of up to 6 kits with their immature quills covered in a protective membrane which quickly dries and shrinks, the sharp quills gradually hardening as the young mature. Baby hedgehogs then shed their immature spines and replace them with adult spines in a process known as “quilling”. When under extreme stress or during sickness, a hedgehog can also lose its spines.
Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal and sleep for a large portion of the day. They are often quite noisy and communicate through a combination of grunts, snuffles and/or squeals. Hedgehogs are omnivorous and happy to eat insects, snails, frogs, birds eggs, carrion, mushrooms, berries and roots, but their cosmopolitan dietary habits can get them into trouble! Hedgehogs suffer many diseases common to humans, including fatty liver disease which is caused by a bad diet with high fat and sugar content. Discarded drinks and dessert containers are frequently sought by foraging hedgehogs that then become trapped by their spines and subsequently starve to death or succumb to other predators like badgers or foxes.
What can we do to help hedgehogs?
There are lots of practical things we can do in our gardens to make life easier for hedgehogs. Firstly, access into and out of the garden is crucial. A small hole (13cm x13 cm) at ground level will suffice. Adult hedgehogs foraging for food may travel 3km in a single evening so one garden is not enough for them! Leaving corners of the garden to grow wild and piling up dead leaves and logs provides foraging areas and a place to hibernate over winter. Purpose built hedgehog homes are readily available in many garden centres. Our Fair to Nature friends at ChapelWood sell a stylish looking hedgehog abode! Check piles of rubbish before burning in case a hedgehog has made it’s home in there. Also check areas before strimming or mowing. Try to reduce the amount of slug pellets and pesticide used, or avoid them altogether! Ponds are good for all sorts of garden wildlife, but make sure there is easy access for small mammals like hedgehogs to get out of the water.
The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society are running a campaign called Hedgehog Street to encourage those of us with gardens to make them hedgehog friendly – leaving wild corners, piles of leaves and logs, and providing access holes in fences to link gardens together.
Hedgehog Awareness Week runs from 3rd-9th May 2015. Find out about events at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website.
To see previous Species of the Month, click on the links below: