Autumn means hibernation for many creatures. One of the most iconic hibernators of the British Isles is the hedgehog.
The artistic subject of many school leaf paintings, and occasionally making a guest appearance in road safety films and Bonfire Night posters; the UK’s only spiny mammal seems to capture the hearts of even the four in 10 British who children have never actually seen a hedgehog in the wild.
This autumn, I’m delighted to have been invited to become an honorary Wildlife Angel for the fantastic animal rescue centre and sanctuary; Pet Samaritans.
Pet Samaritans run the only wildlife rescue in Derbyshire that is open 7 days a week to help with injured wildlife. Every day Pet Samaritans take in wildlife that needs assistance. Last year they treated and helped over 2000 animals before releasing them back into the wild.
Their Hedgehog Hospital runs all year round too; and as hedgehog numbers continue to decline across Britain, they do everything they can to help them.
We, the public, can also do our bit help hedgehogs as they prepare for hibernation (usually taking place November – March) and here are a few suggestions for how…
1. Leave a little food out for our spiky friends
Simply leaving out a bowl of food and water can go a long way to helping preserve populations throughout the winter.
Tinned cat or dog food – or even dry dog food – is a great supplement at times when there’s less food readily available to help fatten up stockpiling hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs need to weigh a minimum of 600 grams to comfortably survive hibernation, and sometimes they need a little extra help following injury, or simply not being able to find enough food.
Hedgehogs like Sonic, George, Baby Harry, Sausage and many more young hoglets that have been treated at Pet Samaritans sanctuary recently; some with injuries, others hungry and underweight.
“Caring for British wildlife at our wildlife rescue centre in Derbyshire is a big part of Sanctuary life,” Pet Samaritans explain.
“Hedgehogs that come to us underweight this time of year will stay with us over winter. We will keep them warm and continue feeding them in the hope that they will then not feel the need to hibernate. Without enough fatstore a hedgehog would not survive hibernation.”
2. If you spot a hedgehog out in daylight, check for injuries and fly strike
It’s unusual for these nocturnal animals to be seen in daylight, and can sometimes be a sign of something being wrong.
Hedgehogs can pick up injuries from a number of sources (Sonic, one of the hedgehogs recently treated by Pet Samaritans was found tangled in a football net, for example!).
Unfortunately, where injuries happen, fly strike can often follow.
Hedgehog fly strike happens when flies lay their eggs (which look like small grains of rice) on hedgehogs; commonly on their eyes and face.
Fly strike has been rife all summer and is continuing through September due to the warm and wet weather.
“These two hoglets are just a couple of our current inpatients,” Pet Samaritans explain. “They were brought in looking unwell and after a quick investigation the odour quickly suggested we were dealing with fly strike.”
Flies are attracted to the damp, warm conditions of wounds and lay their eggs inside them. Within just a few hours these eggs will hatch into maggots causing havoc.
“The wounds were washed for over 20 minutes using mascara brushes, tweezers, cotton buds and pads. The wound sites were cleaned of pus, flies eggs and maggots, then flushed out with saline solution.”
“It took several more flushes and picking off individual maggots before we could treat the area but the hoglets are now cleaned up and in our ICU recovering well.”
3. Turn your garden into a hedgehog safe zone
There are several ways you can help to make your garden a safe place for hedgehogs to thrive. Leaving a pile of leaves to be undisturbed over the winter creates a space for hedgehogs to hibernate (hedgehogs love leaf piles; which is again why you should avoid building bonfire sites before the day you plan to light them).
You can help hedgehogs avoid busy roads and move between spaces more freely on their search for food by creating a hedgehog highway – cutting out a hedgehog-sized chunk from the bottom of a fencing panel.
You can get to know your garden visitors and understand their needs through monitoring their nightly activity. Check out the non-profit organization, Nature Spy Shop, which sells a range of cameras and night vision equipment, perfect monitoring and documenting the activities of hogs.
Also be aware of traps in your neighbouring area. Hedgehogs, such as Arthur, who was brought to Pet Samaritans from Hasland, can sometimes find themselves caught in rat traps.
One of his legs was injured and he was found hungry and dehydrated. The leg is thankfully healing well and Arthur is looking much more sprightly after a few days with the team.
4. Provide a hedgehog house
Hedgehog houses are a fun way to provide shelter and a space for the animals to breed and hibernate in, whilst giving them a year-round safe house where predators can’t reach them.
A word of warning to be cautious about the suitablility of certain type of hedgehog homes on the market was shared online earlier this month however.
A post on Facebook said: ‘This product is going on sale on Thursday 8th October in Aldi stores. These igloo houses have been the cause of injury & quite probably deaths for Hedgehogs, consequently, we are calling for their ban. ‘Hedgehog rescues report that Hedgehogs spines get caught up in the inside where they become stuck and literally starve to death or at least suffer construction injuries. They are poorly made and blow over in the wind. They should be removed from the market.
5. Build bonfires only on the day you want to light them
With bonfire night and Halloween in sight, the Pet Samaritans and Wildlife Angels are urging people to build bonfires on the day they are to be lit to save hedgehogs and other wildlife from being harmed.
Hedgehogs are particularly at risk from burning to death as a bonfire can provide an ideal habitat for these curious nocturnal creatures if built in advance of the planned event.
Ideally, any material that is to be used for a bonfire should be stored away from the site and then used on the day, so as to minimise any risk to wildlife and hedgehogs.
If a bonfire has to be built in advance, simple precautions such as erecting chicken wire around the perimeter of the bonfire can help stop wildlife from nesting inside. Hedgehogs are able to climb, so any wire should slope outwards and be at least a meter high, to prevent them making their way in.
Before lighting it is important to do a thorough check for hedgehogs and wildlife.
Always use a broom or pole to check the centre and bottom areas of the bonfire as a spade or fork could cause serious injury.
6. Fundraise with a collection box
A great way to fundraise at home and work, use your spare change to support the Sanctuary with a collection box. Every penny raised helps to feed and care for the animals in the Sanctuary’s care.
Once the box is full you can empty out the contents and reuse the box. All the money raised can either be dropped off at our centre or donated online.
Contact Pet Samaritans if you would like a box. They can either arrange for you to collect it from the centre or post one out to you.
7. Pledge a donation to help Build A New Wildlife Treatment Unit
Pet Samaritans have seen a demand for their services increase dramatically with local vets and Wildlife Trusts referring cases to them.
“We’ve out grown our existing facilities and we are launching a fundraising campaign this year to build a new larger treatment unit to allow us to cope with the demand. We estimate the project will cost £10,000 for erecting a new building, constructing a treatment room for injured wildlife and a recovery unit with a free flight aviary for birds.”
“This good news is we have areas suitable to site the units and just need to raise enough funds to make this dream come true.”
“Last year we helped over 300 hedgehogs and a dedicated unit for treatments would make the world of difference to us. Help Us Raise £10,000 for equipment and housing for wildlife.”
It’s not only hedgehogs they help, however.
“We have helped many injured birds from owls to baby mice. Whenever possible we release all wildlife back into the wild. Some even stay on at the Sanctuary and live free around the center. A pigeon and a dove decided they liked it so much, they decided to have a family right next to our visitor center.”
Find out more here.
8. Become a Pet Samaritans Wildlife Angel
These guys run the only wildlife rescue in Derbyshire that is open 7 days a week to help with injured wildlife, so they started their Wildlife Angels program to try to raise awareness of their work and raise urgent funding.
As you can imagine, running a hedgehog hospital all year round requires a lot of resources and support. They also receive so many calls every day asking for advice and help with wildlife from all over the country, but the current pandemic has really affected their ability to raise funds.
Pet Samaritans wildlife angels program provides vital care for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife with the aim of rehabilitating and returning each animal back into the wild.
Wildlife admissions are at an all-time high and their success means they need more angels to support their work. Please join us if you can.
Wildlife Angels will…
- Directly help wildlife through the Pet Samaritans wildlife hospital and rescue centre in Derbyshire. The wildlife angels program is dedicated to the rescue, care and rehabilitation of British wildlife with the aim of releasing back into the wild when ready.
- Receive a wildlife enamel badge to wear or display – a different one to collect each year.
- Also receive a Welcome Pack with membership card and a Wildlife Angels certificate.