Hedgehog Hibernation

In Issue 2 of Scotland Grows magazine, Moira Grant, who is a Hedgehog Champion with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society/Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species, gave us tips for what we as gardeners could do to help the declining hedgehog population. Here, she explains the hibernation stage of hedgehogs and, again, what we can do to help at this time of year.

Hedgehogs should currently be hibernating in their winter nests, although they are not in fact sleeping but their metabolism has slowed almost to a standstill. If you see one lying out in the open, it is not hibernating but sick and in need of immediate help by getting it to the SSPCA or a rescue. 

Favourite sites for winter nests are under hedges and roots of trees, in piles of brushwood, inside compost heaps or in old rabbit burrows, and underneath timber buildings and sheds. The nest itself is ramshackle in appearance but well constructed from old dry leaves, grass, and other vegetation and can be up to 50cm (20 inches) thick.

Most hedgehogs seem to wake up fairly frequently during their hibernation but rarely leave their nests. These arousals last a day or two and, although generally unprompted, they may be caused by a disturbance or unexpectedly hot weather. 

They are also at particular risk if the air temperature falls too low. If, for example, we reach temperatures below freezing point, ice crystals may form in their blood. If the environment cools below this temperature, their body functions have to “switch on” again and this may rouse them to activity.

If you know or suspect that a hedgehog is nesting in your garden, please do not be tempted to investigate as disturbance could prove fatal in cold temperatures. 

Hibernation usually ends about mid-March to early-April but this may vary in years with exceptional weather conditions. When they awake, they are weak and in need of good food and water. 

At Forth Hedgehog Hospital where I volunteer, we have a large number of hogs which we over-winter in unheated hutches to allow them to hibernate before they are released as close as possible to where they were found, if safe to do so. 

Some of our patients because of their condition are, however, unable to be fully returned to the wild and we are always looking for completely enclosed large walled gardens where they can live with support in feeding. Walls need to be sufficiently high for them to be unable to climb up, as they can be little Houdinis and can even use ivy as a stepladder! If you think your garden might be suitable and you are in reasonable travelling distance from Rosyth then please message Forth Hedgehog Hospital on Facebook or email queries@hedgehoghospital.org.uk, with photos if possible. We are grateful for all support in helping to conserve these special little mammals.

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