The clocks have turned back, the temperature is dropping, Autumn is here and so another bonfire night is dawning. But please do spare a thought for our hedgehogs at this time of year. They are beginning to think about hibernation, and where better than a nice large pile of brush wood or a bonfire pile. If you are thinking of creating a bonfire on Monday the 5th, or anytime of year for that matter, it is always best just to check it before hand to make sure no hedgehogs have moved in before setting it alight!
Hedgehogs are our only "spiky" animal, and one of only three types of British mammal that truly hibernate, the other two being the dormice and bats. But what else makes the hedgehog so amazing, and one of Britain's most charismatic creatures...
- The hedgehog species is believed to have been around for over 10 million years
- The name is thought to have come from it's late night habits of foraging through hedges whilst emitting a pig-like grunt
- The males are called boars, females sows and babies hoglets
- They have around 5,000 hollow spines or "quills", each lasting about a year before dropping out and being replaced by a new one
- When first born they have only a few spines, which are soft and reside just under the skin
- Often called the "gardeners friend", as there diet consists largely of common garden pests
- Hedgehogs are mildly intolerant to lactose, so please do not feed them bread and milk!
- Hedgehogs are known for being flea-ridden, often carrying up to 500 fleas, of course the ones at the BWC are treated and so are flea free
- When stimulated by a strong smell they often self-anoint, tasting the new smell and then licking their spines with a foamy saliva... no one is sure the reason behind why they do this?
- During hibernation a hedgehogs heartbeat will drop from 190 beats per minute to around only 20bpm!
- Surprisingly hedgehogs can swim, climb walls and...
- They can run up to 4.5mph! Not bad for a little ball of spikes
The hedgehog is one of our most loved wild animals, perhaps most famously seen as "Mrs Tiggy-Winkle" ironing her shirts in one of Beatrix Potters stories, but unfortunately they are not doing so well at the moment.
Recent surveys in Britain has confirmed what many naturalists have thought... hedgehogs are declining in number. In fact it is believed that we have lost over a quarter of the population in just the last ten years, possibly nearer to a half of the population in some areas. Why is this?.. Well, no-one seems to be able to put a definitive answer on it, but it is likely to a combination of little things along with a general change in garden/habitat issues.
Slug pellets still seem to be a problem, with many gardeners still using these to control their slugs, and then hedgehogs in turn eating the slugs and becoming poisoned themselves. More road users means more road deaths. An increase in badger numbers could possibly lead to more hedgehogs being eaten. But perhaps the biggest change is that in Britain's gardens.
These days it seems many people are keeping their gardens very neat and tidy, and not leaving any areas overgrown... which is what the hedgehog likes. Some even go as far as to change from a "natural" garden to one with decking and paving. More secure fencing around a garden leads to it being harder for a hedgehog to traverse between different areas while foraging for food, and this general habitat loss is making it hard for hedgehogs in the wild.
So what do we do here? Well, all we really can do is keep educating the public and schools about our hedgehogs and what they can do to help in their own back gardens. We don't breed our hedgehogs for release, but we do get many brought in every year as rescues. We pass these on to dedicated rescue centres such as "Wildlife A&E" who are far better suited than us to offer these animals the care they need. They can then look at the best options for the hedgehogs for their future, be that a permanent home or a release back in to the wild.
We also work closely with the wildlife trusts, and the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). We often loan them a hedgehog for their educational days so that their visitors can actually see the animal they are trying to work towards conserving. They have recently set up the "Hedgehog Street" website, sharing information about hedgehog friendly gardening and trying to gather a following of "Hedgehog Champions" to help with the efforts to save our hedgehogs, and continue to work to promote the conservation of our spiny little friends.
To find our more about the hedgehog itself, why not come along while we are still open till this Sunday the 4th of November. Here you will be able to see our hedgehogs in our new "Nocturnal House" before they fully settle in to hibernation, and learn all about the animals themselves during out "Keeper Talk" at 1.00pm.
To find out more about the work the PTES are doing, then either look at their main site or check out their hedgehog street site linked below: