Frequently asked questions
How many hedgehogs are left?
Counting hedgehogs is difficultIn the 1950s it was estimated there were 36.5 million hedgehogs in Britain, but this was based on limited data and was probably an overestimate.A more recent estimate in 1995, of 1,550,000 in Great Britain (England 1,100,000, Scotland 310,000, Wales 140,000), is more reliable. There is now evidence that numbers have been declining since then.
What do hedhehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are widely recognised as a potent ally in the garden, but what do they actually eat?
What makes up a wild hedgehog’s diet?
Hedgehogs mainly eat creepy crawlies.
Hedgehogs are generalists and feed on a wide range of things. The majority of their diet is made up of invertebrates (or creepy crawlies). We know what they eat from scientific studies that have analysed hedgehog poo or looked in the stomachs of hedgehogs killed on roads.
The most important invertebrates in their diet are worms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs and millipedes.
Where do hedgehogs live?
Hedgehogs live in a broad range of habitats.
Apart from very wet areas and extensive pine forests, they live in most parts of Britain.
They are also often scarce in upland areas such as moorlands and mountainsides. Hedgehogs enjoy living on the edge of woodlands. They thrive in the mosaic of hedges, fields and woodlands that characterise the British countryside.
Hedgehogs can be just as happy in rural or urban locations.
As the name suggests, hedgehogs are often found near hedgerows.
These are ideal nest sites, providing a good supply of food, protection from predators and corridors to move along.
The pastures used by farmers to raise cattle, sheep or horses are also important foraging areas for hedgehogs.
Gardens (and lots of them) provide the perfect ‘hog habitat!
Hedgehogs are also abundant in urban and suburban areas. Gardens provide hedgehogs with a plentiful supply of food, both natural and supplementary, as well as many potential nest sites for breeding, resting and hibernation. For these reason urban areas have become a stronghold for hedgehogs in recent years.
Access between gardens is critical for hedgehogs!
Hedgehogs have home ranges they like to keep to, but are not territorial so will not fight to defend these areas. Radio-tracking studies have found that hedgehog home ranges vary during the year (and between sexes).
On average, they are around 10—20 hectares in size. Hedgehogs can roam an average distance of 2km on a single night. Male hedgehogs in the breeding season can cover up to 3km in one night in their search of females!
Do hedgehogs hibernate?
Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals that are true hibernators. During hibernation hedgehogs are not really asleep, instead they drop their body temperature to match their surroundings and enter a state of torpor. This allows them to save a lot of energy but slows down all other bodily functions making normal activity impossible.
When do hedgehogs hibernate?
Hedgehogs usually hibernate from October/November through to March/April. Research has shown that each individual is likely to move nesting sites at least once during this period and so can sometimes be seen out and about. During mild winters hedgehogs can remain active well into November and December.
While in hibernation the hedgehog’s fuel supply comes from the fat stores it has built up over the summer. Eating enough before hibernation is vital and this is when supplementary feeding can prove important to hedgehogs.
Found a sick or injured hedgehog?
What to do if you find a hedgehog that looks unwell
If you spot a hedgehog in the spring, summer or autumn and it looks healthy then the best thing you can do is leave it alone. Hedgehogs are wild animals and so can get very easily stressed by human contact. However, if you find a hedgehog staggering around during the day or in winter then it might be in trouble.
Sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs are very susceptible to hypothermia. Staggering is a sign of hypothermia and so is ‘sunbathing’ as they spread themselves out in the sun in an attempt to get some heat into their bodies. If you find a hedgehog in this state they need your help quickly. Take them inside in a box and place a well-wrapped hot water bottle underneath them. Fill the bottle with hot tap water (not boiling) – you should be able to hold your hand comfortably on the bottle when wrapped. It’s really important that the bottle is not allowed to go cold or it will do more harm than good, so change the water frequently. Once you have the hedgehog settled, call the
Minster Hedgies on 07786 962211 or the
British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) on 01584 890 801.
At around 4 weeks old, baby hedgehogs (= hoglets) start to venture out of the nest with their mothers. Occasionally one may come out of the nest in the day but will be busy searching for food and will then return to the nest. However, some hoglets, even newborns, whose mother has been killed will venture out of the nest in search of her. You are likely to spot these out in the day, they may be squeaking and there may be flies around them. These hoglets need rescuing as soon as possible because if the hoglets are left too long they may get maggots on them which will eat them alive.
The hoglets should be handled using gloves (so your smell does not get on them) and placed on a covered hot water bottle and then covered with a small towel. If you only find one do have a look for more. Once settled, call
Minster Hedgies or
British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) for advice.
Where should a hedgehog be released after rehabilitation?
Hedgehog carers across the UK work hard to nurse sick and injured hedgehogs back to good health. Recently, however, more light has been shed on the importance of what actions to take once the animal is ready to once more fend for itself. In fact, the choice of release site could be vital to their survival.
Hedgehogs build a mental map of their home range to help better navigate their environment, making them more vulnerable in unfamiliar areas. Hedgehogs released from unknown sites face larger competition for resources and a greater risk of road mortality. They may also spread infectious diseases to new populations.
Simply put, a hedgehog will be most content when released within its original home range.
Do hedgehogs get ticks or fleas?
Hedgehogs are renowned for having fleas. However, the fleas found on hedgehogs are actually hedgehog fleas (scientific name: Archaeopsylla erinacei) which are host specific, meaning they will not survive for long on any other species, be it pets or people. Occasionally hedgehogs can become infested with fleas but usually they will only have a few resident fleas which will cause them no harm.
Ticks are another common external parasite on hedgehogs. Usually an individual will have a couple of ticks on it though occasionally there are hedgehogs with heavier burdens. Ticks often attach themselves to the underside, behind the ears or the flanks of hedgehogs but they can occur elsewhere as well. Ticks are in general harmless to hedgehogs. However, a high parasite load can be indicative of sickness.
Hedgehogs often get ringworm, with around a quarter of the national population thought to be affected. Most hedgehogs show no visible symptoms and even those with severe infections can still show little sign of skin infection and can feed normally. Dry, crusty ears are one of the most common symptoms of a ringworm infection.
Hedgehogs can be host to a number of different parasitic worms, with lungworm being especially prevalent in European hedgehogs. Lungworm infection can result in a dry rattling cough and can prove fatal if left untreated. A mild worm burden is to be expected in most hedgehogs but this should cause few problems to them.
What are the threats to hedgehogs in rural areas?
Loss of hedgerows
Due to agricultural intensification, there has been around a 50% decline in hedgerows in rural Britain since 1945. Hedgerows provide ideal locations for hedgehog nesting sites as well as being important movement corridors. The scale of the loss of hedgerows will certainly have had an impact on rural hedgehog populations.
A more subtle issue is with the way hedges are managed within modern farming systems. Mechanical flailing has largely replaced traditional laying and coppicing, resulting in hedgerows that are increasingly gappy and lack a dense base. This makes them far less suitable as places to shelter from predators and for nesting or hibernation.
Loss of permanent pastures
Pastures are grasslands used to graze livestock such as cattle, sheep, and horses. They also make up the areas that rural hedgehogs most like to forage, as worms and other invertebrates are abundant and easy to find.
As farming has intensified, many areas like these have been converted into arable production or ploughed and reseeded and this will have had an effect of the suitability of the landscape for hedgehogs. Luckily, garden lawns provide an ideal alternative, as long as they aren’t managed too intensively.
Widespread use of pesticides
The use of pesticides to increase food production across the countryside is thought to have heavily impacted hedgehogs. Pesticides reduce the amount of invertebrates available for the hedgehogs to eat.
Roads can have an impact on hedgehogs through direct mortality. In the UK it has been estimated that up to 15,000 hedgehogs are killed annually on roads, although its unsure what the overall effect of this is on the population.
Roads also act as barriers to movement of hedgehogs, causing the fragmentation of populations into smaller populations which are more likely to become extinct.
Traffic volume can have a larger impact on population persistence than road size, as traffic volume increases a road becomes more difficult to cross and so it prevents any movement of hedgehogs.
Badgers are known to predate hedgehogs and hedgehogs actively avoid areas where badgers are present. However, these two species have coexisted in Britain for several thousand years.
Whilst it is likely that where badger numbers are high the number of hedgehogs will be low there is no evidence that badgers are the single most important factor affecting hedgehogs today.
In rural areas hedgehogs are declining severely even in parts of the country with low badger densities (eg East Anglia). Predation by badgers is likely to only be a big problem for populations if other factors are also acting to reduce numbers.