Wildlife Blog #4
Another week in lockdown, another garden wildlife blog, enjoy!
This week we are going to take a closer look at a prickly visitor to our gardens, but not too close! Having around 5000 - 7000 spines, the hedgehog’s defensive adaptation allows them to curl into a prickly and unappetizing ball, deterring most predators. They will also curl up to snooze so that they are protected when sleeping. They weigh between 14 to 39 ounces and are about 5 to 14 cm in length, including the tail.
The hedgehog was named because of its foraging behaviour. They move through the undergrowth of hedges in search of small creatures such as insects, worms, snails, frogs, mice and snakes. They will also eat bird eggs, nestlings and carrion. When foraging, hedgehogs make a grunting sound like pigs, therefore named the hedgehog. Hedgehogs come out at night to feed, and sleep during the day.
The hedgehog that we know in the UK is the western European hedgehog, which has a geographical range that stretches across many European countries, as seen in the image below (from ICUN Red List data). They are widespread across Britain, except for some Scottish islands. They can be found in a variety of natural habitats, including flower borders, hedges, herb gardens, lawn/grassy areas, meadows, scrub and in woodland.
Mostly solitary animals, they usually only couple for mating. Hedgehogs reach sexual maturity in their second year of life and breed every year after that. They will commonly reproduce between April and September; however, most births occur in May and June. Young hedgehogs are born each year, with litters of around one to eleven remaining with the mother for four to seven weeks. They then head out on their own. As well as protecting their young from predators, females must also protect them against male hedgehogs. A common trend throughout the animal kingdom…
Hedgehogs are hibernating animals, along with bats, dormice, amphibians, reptiles and some insects. Hibernation is an adaptation that helps animals survive harsh conditions such as cold winters. During hibernation, they are not actually asleep, but instead are in a state of torpor which is achieved by lowering body temperature and slowing down their metabolism for months at a time. It is a way of conserving energy by remaining inactive. Hedgehogs emerge from hibernation around April and can be seen into late October.
Counting hedgehogs in the field is difficult. In 2017, researchers estimated that there are about 1.5 million across England, Scotland and Wales collectively. However, their numbers have started to dwindle. Surveys carried out by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) present worrying declines in local hedgehog population numbers. Why hedgehogs are in decline is not known for certain, however there are likely candidates that all may be contributing to an extent. Habitat loss due to intensive agriculture, increased field sizes and removing hedgerows is one. A reduction in prey availability due to pesticides, smaller tidier gardens making it difficult for hedgehogs to travel around, new buildings and roads causing populations to become isolated, and road traffic, which kills tens of thousands each year, are all also likely contributing factors.
Hedgehogs are common visitors to our gardens, and on their rounds can visits up to twelve in one night. The hedgehog in my garden visits between 9pm – 5am, nearly every night. I know this because I have a camera trap set-up to monitor the wildlife in my garden. Learning this, I have since made a few changes to help the hedgehog. There are several things you can do to help hedgehogs in your garden and across the UK. Firstly, if you know you have a hedgehog that visits your garden already, you can go to https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/ and report your hedgehog finding. This website also provides ways to discover if you have hedgehogs in your garden. Hedgehog Street is a campaign working to make sure hedgehogs remain a common and familiar part of British wildlife, and by entering your sightings you are helping them gather crucial information that will direct their conservation efforts. There is also a very helpful list detailing tips on how to make your garden hedgehog-friendly. Including for example, putting out food and water, making a home for hedgehogs, linking your garden with hedgehog highways, creating a wild corner and much more.
The RSPB also has a list of garden activities that benefit hedgehogs, just click on this link and it will take you to where you need to be... https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/?Help=20
If you have any photos of your prickly garden friends that you would like to share, send them into the Facebook page @RSPBFrampton and we will share your wildlife experience with the community. Photos will be credited.
Thanks for reading, I hope you learnt something!
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