• Hiding Hedgehogs

  • The MAVES area, with its mix of woodlands, hedgerows, wetlands, grasslands, field margins, nurseries and gardens offers ideal habitat for hedgehogs, however, despite this, none have been spotted in 2015. If you have seen one, please tell us.

    This may be because hedgehogs are largely nocturnal and not many people walk our open countryside at night. Hedgehogs do gad about somewhat, travelling up to 2 km per night across a sizable home range, as they forage for food.  

    Foraging involves snuffling around for various scents or listening for the scratching of digging insects or the rustling of leaves and grass.  A remarkably wide range of delicacies is enjoyed including beetles, spiders, snails, slugs and even amphibians and reptiles.  The munching of snails and slugs has won the hedgehog notorious acclaim as the gardener’s friend.  However, unlike the modern gardener, the hedgehog has been around, and little changed, since the late Cretaceous period (about 70 million years).

    Hedgehogs are named after hedges, along which they characteristically forage and nest, and hogs because they have a rather pig-like snout.  Baby hedgehogs, which are called hoglets, start to appear in April when insect life is on the up.  The hazardous spines or prickles ingeniously remain underneath the skin to protect the mother during birth, breaking through within the first few hours of independent life.  They originate from hairs that over evolutionary time have become hollow, hard and pointed.

    Hedgehogs would usually be considering hibernation at this time of year; however, unseasonable warmth has resulted in prolonged activity. Hibernation is a process whereby metabolic rates are drastically lowered enablling survival in the absence of an adequate food supply.  The hedgehog reduces its heart rate from 188 beats per minute to just 22 bpm, and its temperature from 35°C to less than 4°C resulting in energy usage plummeting to a mere fiftieth of normal levels.   Hibernation may not necessarily be continuous, for hedgehogs wake up every 7 – 11 days, and in milder conditions may forage for a while.  

    Unfortunately, hedgehog numbers have plummeted in recent years, and so, should you see one scurrying around this autumn or winter, please do let us know when and where. You can also help by leaving undisturbed corners in gardens with log piles and leaves thereby providing suitable nesting and hibernation sites. Slug pellets and insecticides are disastrous for hedgehogs, as are suitably dry bonfire heaps.  So, before you light that seasonal bonfire, it’s best to move it a few metres, checking the area beneath, just in case it is providing a hedgehog hideaway.