Did you know it is Hedgehog Awareness Week 2016 from the 1st to the 7th May? Hedgehogs are a well-loved species here in the UK, yet the population has reportedly dropped by 99.97% since the 1950s, motivating campaigners to petition for them to be protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Hedgehogs – Nature’s own pesticide
Campaigners have also been calling for Parliament to ban the use of certain pesticides and chemicals in the garden that can cause hedgehogs to have a slow and very cruel death, most notably the use of metaldehyde in slug pellets. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that hedgehogs are in fact one of nature’s own best pesticides. They get their name from the fact that they forage in hedgerows and other wild places for mice, frogs, snails, slugs and all kinds of insects. They are also one of the few creatures that are immune to snake venom, and therefore smaller snakes are a part of their diet.
Look Out for the Hedgehogs
As spring unfolds, one of the ways you can help preserve the lives of hedgehogs is by being aware that even if you can’t see them, they could be around when you are working in the garden with machinery or tools such as strimmers, cutting machines, spades or forks.
Are the Hedgehogs Hiding in your Garden?
Creating a safe space for hedgehogs in your garden can be as simple as making sure you check everywhere within the area in which you are working to ensure that they will not be accidentally harmed – for example, if you decide to make a fire out of garden rubbish, it is a good idea to move it from one site to another to make sure any hedgehogs that might be taking shelter in there have had chance to escape. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, hunting at night and tending to curl up and sleep during the day in sheltered places where they are often camouflaged by leaves, roots and soil.
Understanding that they love undergrowth and wild spaces also helps us to be judicious about disturbing this type of habitat before using garden tools in areas such as piles of leaves or compost where hedgehogs may be hidden.
Please don’t let them get Trapped!!
Considering ways in which hedgehogs could be in danger of falling or getting trapped is another way you can help their plight. The Hedgehog Preservation Society advise a 13cm x 13cm gap in walls, fences or netting, and also ensuring that manhole covers, drains and basement windows are closed at night and that ponds and pools have an easy exit.
What should you do if you find a troubled Hedgehog?
So, what should you do if you do happen to find an injured or sick hedgehog or an isolated hoglet (baby hedgehog) in your garden? If a hedgehog is wandering around during the day it is likely that it could be in some kind of trouble, even if it is not possible to spot the signs yet, so it is always worth erring on the side of caution. The first thing to do is to find a box deep enough that the hedgehog will not escape, and to ensure you are wearing thick gardening gloves to avoid getting spiked by its quills if you pick it up. Line the box with newspaper, ensure there is adequate ventilation holes in the box for the hedgehog to breathe and if the hedgehog is cold, place a hot water bottle or heat pad inside the box with it. Next, take it to the nearest vet, animal rescue or dedicated hedgehog rescue centre for assistance.
What if you find the whole family?
If there is a nest of hoglets and a mother hedgehog in distress, the babies should be put in a separate box from their mother as it is possible the mother could kill them for their own safety if she is experiencing anxiety and feeling under threat. They will be reintroduced to each other as soon as they have been checked over.
Please note that unfortunately, the new domestic breeds of hedgehogs that are becoming popular are completely unable to survive in the wild, and if they have escaped or been abandoned it is therefore important that they are not released back into the wild. It is possible to differentiate between domestic and wild hedgehogs by their colouring, which is usually a lot paler, and sometimes they have pink eyes or larger ears than indigenous breeds.
Why not commit to helping hedgehogs for Hedgehog Awareness Week, and remember that using chemical free pesticides is one of the best ways you can help preserve one of our favourite British animals this year.