Glossary & References / Miscellaneous Documents List  / D75 - The British Hedgehog Preservation Society: The basic facts / Text Sections:

REGISTERED CHARITY NUMBER 326885

Know your Hedgehog

Hedgehog Factsheets

 

The Basic Facts

The Latin word for Hedgehog is Erinaceus and our own British Hedgehog is scientifically known as Erinaceus europaeus; it is the same species that occurs throughout most of the continent of Europe. In Britain it is found almost everywhere except some of the Scottish Islands, but tends to be scarce or absent from wet areas and pine forests. Uplands and mountainsides are not popular, probably because they lack both suitable food and suitable nesting places. Hedgehogs are well established in our urban habitat and can, somewhat surprisingly, survive very well in our cities, making extremely good use of cemeteries, railway land, wasteland and both public and private gardens. Shakespeare mentions Hedgehogs in 'The Tempest' and 'Midsummer Night's Dream' and he refers to 'hedgepigs' and 'urchins'.

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Description

Everyone is sure to know what a Hedgehog looks like. The animal is almost totally covered in 25mm (1") long spines (Which are really modified hairs). These are absent from the chest, belly, throat and legs which are covered with a coarse, grey-brown fur. There are approximately 5,000/7,000 spines on an average adult Hedgehog.

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Diet 

 Hedgehogs are certainly noisy eaters as people who have encountered these animals 'at table' testify; but what do they actually eat? 

This diagram shows that beetles are a major food item along with caterpillars and earthworms. Most people are aware that Hedgehogs are basically insect eaters.

Click Illustration for full-page view

However, many householders put out a saucer of cat or dog food for their garden friends. The Hedgehog will treat this as a welcome supplement to its normal diet and will not go hungry if, for some reason, the food is not put out. Always ensure that a dish of water is available especially during the summer months or in extreme weather conditions. 

A recommended diet is listed under 'Caring for Autumn Orphans'.

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Garden' Visitors

At the risk of disappointing some people, it is worth mentioning the fact that Hedgehogs tend to 'do the rounds' and visit several gardens within an area. As many as ten different individuals may visit a garden over several nights, which could mean that 'your Hedgehog' is in fact a number of different individuals visiting at different times.

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Helping your Friends

The best ways of assisting Hedgehogs are by helping them avoid man-made hazards and providing them with suitable places to nest, especially in the winter.

Slug pellets - These are poisonous and should only be used where there is a serious slug problem. Pellets should be placed in a pipe or under a slate inaccessible to Hedgehogs. Dead slugs must be removed daily. Use other garden pesticides sparingly; you never know what else they might kill or make sick. Always try alternative methods.

Garden ponds/Swimming pools - can be death traps to small mammals. Always ensure that there are several slipways around the edge of the water to enable animals to escape if they fall in. Ensure that the pool cover is on every night and that polystyrene floats are placed near the side for the Hedgehog to cling to. Slipways may be made by half submerging bricks or rocks around the edges of ponds and pools. Alternatively a piece of chicken wire can be hung over the edge like a scrambling net up which Hedgehogs can climb to freedom. Do remember Hoglets will need a longer ramp than an adult Hedgehog.

Cattle and Sheep Grids - Many small animals including Hedgehogs and birds cannot escape from shear-sided pits beneath these grids. A small ramp or slope in one corner of the pit enables the trapped animals to walk out.

Other Dangers - Hedgehogs can become entangled in tennis nets, causing death by starvation. Furl the net well above ground when not in use. Hedgehogs are inquisitive and will try to eat almost anything, a trait that can lead to their undoing. Having been attracted by the remaining contents, hedgehogs have been found with their heads stuck in tins, yoghurt pots and plastic cups. Always cut the plastic rings off "carry 4 packs" plastic holders. To prevent such unnecessary deaths, litter should be disposed of in a proper manner.

Hedgehogs in the Garden

The Hedgehog is known as the "gardener's friend" as it will eat slugs, beetles, caterpillars etc., and does no harm, so if you have a large garden a Hedgehog is to be encouraged. They should not be kept in close captivity, but regarded as honoured visitors.

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Parasites

If it is necessary to remove fleas from a Hedgehog, then a commercially prepared powder suitable for caged birds (Johnsons Rid-Mite) can be dusted amongst the spines (taking care to avoid the eyes of the animal) as an adequate treatment, but do not use on very young Hedgehog's.

Blood-sucking ticks are often found on Hedgehogs and after taking their fill of blood, will drop off the host in order to complete their life cycle. Removal of these ticks is a difficult task but can be accomplished by dousing the offending creatures in olive/almond/cooking oil. Removing the ticks using forceps is to be avoided as the inexperienced may leave the mouth-parts and head in the skin which may turn septic.

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Caring for Autumn Orphans

Hedgehogs may give birth to their Hoglets late in the year. Such youngsters will not have enough time to build up sufficient fat reserves to enable them to survive hibernation. The minimum weight to see them through the winter is 5OOgms (1¼lb) and any Hedgehog below this weight is almost certain to die. Autumn 'orphans', i.e. youngsters found alone and under this critical weight after the end of September, should be housed indoors. If the orphan is very young (under 100mgs/3-4ozs) it should be given extra warmth, either a hot water bottle wrapped in towelling/blanket etc. or a heated pad. It should be placed in a box lined with plenty of newspaper and some old towelling for bedding. Out buildings are fine if heated but don't put Hedgehogs directly onto a metal grid or wire floor, or straight onto concrete - they have sensitive feet and the cold will permeate through. Once eating, a suitable diet can consist of meat based cat or dog food (not in gravy), chicken - cooked including the carcass, minced cooked beef or lamb, a little bran or muesli cereal and added vitamins - like SA37. Other snacks enjoyed are banana, chopped peanuts, raisins, unsweetened crushed digestive biscuits and kitten biscuits. Fresh water should ALWAYS be available. NEVER COWS' MILK. For care of very young Hoglets - warmth as above and seek advice quickly or see the BHPS leaflet: Caring for Hoglets, available from the address [BHPS address below]. Once the Hedgehog has reached 500-700gms (1¼-1½ lbs) release can be considered if the weather is stable and the site suitable. Choose a period of relatively warm, damp weather and ensure that plenty of dry nesting material is available for the Hedgehog to build a winter nest an hibernate. Also, ensure that the release site is already inhabited by Hedgehogs as this is an indication that the area is 'Hedgehog friendly'. If in doubt do not release until late April when food is more plentiful, allowing the up-to-weight Hedgehog to hibernate in a cold outhouse in a box filled with dry, fresh straw.

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Hibernation

If you want to attract wildlife to your garden, leave wild areas and avoid 'tidying up' too much. Hedgehogs tend to hibernate between November and mid March and may choose the stack of leaves or branches in your garden. For this reason if you have to get rid of such material, move it to a different spot before setting fire to it: a Hedgehog may be sheltering or hibernating in it. They like to nest under things (e.g. sheds, hedges and brushwoods) and need plenty of dry leaves to build their nest.

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The aims of the Society are:-

a) To encourage and give advice to the public concerning the care of Hedgehogs particularly when injured, sick, treated cruelly, orphaned or in any other danger
b) To encourage children to respect our natural wild-life-by supplying information and giving lectures, and thus fostering an interest in Hedgehogs
c) to fund serious research into behavioural habits of Hedgehogs and to ascertain the best methods of assisting their survival

 

For further information please send an s.a.e to:-

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society,
Hedgehog House,
Dhustone, LUDLOW,
Shropshire, SY8 3PL
Email: bhps@dhustone.fsbusiness.co.uk