Hedgehogs are coming out of hibernation early this year, due to the relatively warm weather we have had in February (they normally don’t stir until mid-March).
Waking from their winter rest period, when their body temperature drops and their heart rate plummets (they breathe only once every few minutes), requires a huge amount of energy and means that they need to find food and water straight away.
During hibernation hedgehogs use of most of their fat stores, and so they have very little in reserve.
And if it turns cold again, as it just has done at the end of February, they go back into hibernation and need enough energy to wake up for a second time.
Hedgehogs are an endangered species.
In urban areas their numbers have been affected by tidy gardens, the use of slug pellets, and heavy-duty fencing; and in rural areas they have been adversely affected by the loss of hedgerows, the widespread use of pesticides, and an increase in the number of vehicles on our roads.
So, we must all do our bit to help them survive.
As regular readers of this article will know, hedgehogs enjoy meaty dog or cat food and cat biscuits, alongside a shallow water bowl.
Another way to make life easier for these amazing little creatures is to allow your garden to become a bit wilder. Hedgehogs love longer grass and the insects that live in it, and so reduce the size of your mowed lawn and leave outlying areas of grass to grow.
Create log piles where hedgehogs can hide and nest, and ensure you have a hedgehog-sized hole in your garden fence so that they can move around without the need to cross roads.
Hedgehogs enjoy a natural diet of slugs and earthworms, and so try not to use chemicals to keep your delicate plants pest-free – and certainly don’t use slug pellets.
If you have to reduce the number of slugs in your garden, use environmentally friendly ways to do so – plant slug-repellent plants like garlic and chives; use copper tape around the base of your plant pots; and scatter coffee grounds or egg shells on your garden beds (slugs won’t crawl over them).
Back to feeding: a recent study by Nottingham Trent University analysed hundreds of videos, taken by members of the public, of the interactions between wild mammals in urban gardens.
The researchers found that while leaving out highly nutritious food for wildlife was beneficial in many ways, it also brought animals into conflict – both between species and within a species.
Of the 316 instances where animals were spotted together, 175 ended in confrontation.
The research was undertaken in the UK, and involved a range of wild mammals including foxes and badgers – species we don’t have on the Isle of Man.
The humble hedgehog emerged as the species most likely to be combative within the same species, with more than half (55%) of interactions leading to some form of aggression.
This included a move the researchers called the ‘barge and roll’, whereby one hedgehog attacks another one by running at it, causing the victim to roll up before being pushed away by the assailant.
In one instance an individual was pushed down a flight of concrete steps, and another was rolled into water.
The researchers suggest that competition for high-calorie food is the main cause of the aggressive behaviour, and they recommend that we place several food bowls in different parts of our garden, and move feeding spots from time to time.
In our attempts to help hedgehogs, we must also be mindful that leaving out too much food may attract rats. Rats didn’t feature in the Nottingham research because their feeding behaviour is generally more ‘stealthy’ and they are likely to come along after the other animals and eat what is left over.
So, it’s important to leave out just the right amount of food and monitor hedgehogs eating it.