12 November 2018
Georgina Whittaker, ecologist in our Manchester office, shares her top tips for helping hedgehogs prepare for winter hibernation.
Autumn is the cooling off season and for many UK wildlife species a time for slowing down and for some such as the West European hedgehog, a time to eat as much as possible to build up fat reserves in preparation for winter hibernation.
Contrary to common belief, animals in hibernation are not sleeping but are instead in a state of prolonged torpor (or state of inactivity) where they exist on a knife edge between starvation and survival. Hibernating animals slow their heart and breathing rates and reduce their body temperature and metabolism to conserve energy therefore having a good fat reserve and stable environment to shelter in are vitally important.
To help hedgehogs prepare for hibernation, you can create piles of brash/loose wood or purchase purpose-built hibernation structures such as hedgehog huts for installation in areas of your garden that will not flood or be disturbed by pets and children. Hedgehogs appreciate meat flavoured cat biscuits or chopped unsalted nuts and a shallow dish of water where special hedgehog food is not available. Note wet food can freeze and both bread and milk are unhealthy for hedgehogs. You can further help hedgehogs to access these resources by cutting a small hole in the bottom of you fence if your garden is enclosed to create a hedgehog highway.
‘Awakening’ from hibernation is costly because precious energy reserves are used so if you suspect that a hedgehog is hibernating in your garden be careful not to disturb it. Be mindful that it may emerge during notably cold winter periods to avoid freezing and will likely be searching for food so any help from you could make all the difference to ensure their survival over winter.
The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) have confirmed a worrying decline both rural and urban hedgehog numbers. The hedgehog is now a priority species for conservation and is listed under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 as a Species of Principal Importance. For more information on how to help hedgehogs please visit: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/faqs/.