Hedgehogs in Autumn
Hedgehogs in Autumn
It's that time of year again when summer has slowly come to an end. The colder, damper air draws in and the days become shorter. For some this may be upsetting that the hot sun and balmy evenings have disappeared, however for many of our local species autumn is the best time of year.
Natures larder is full to the brim with berries and insects, perfect for one of our favourite little prickly mammals. The hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are a native species in Jersey and the UK and have a lifespan of around 3-8 years.
Hedgehogs main habitats include hedgerows, woodland perimeters, parks and gardens and feed predominantly on beetles, caterpillars, worms, slugs, snails, larva and berries. Due to their poor eyesight, they rely on their excellent sense of smell and are mainly nocturnal or active during early evening or morning.
During autumn hedgehogs are most active as they're trying their best to eat as much as they can to create enough fat reserves before hibernating over the winter. Hibernation for hedgehogs usually begins in October/November and ends March/April; weather and temperature can play a large factor in when a hedgehog decides to hibernate. During hibernation a hedgehog will slow its heart and breathing rate as well as lower its body temperature and slow down its metabolism. They may occasionally wake up during hibernation to go to the toilet, find remaining food or move spots if they are too warm or too cold, but for the most part will sleep through the coldest months.
Despite these efforts to slow down a healthy hedgehog needs to be at least 600g before entering hibernation, any less might not be enough to make it through the winters harsh conditions.
Hedgehogs will also start to look for a good place to hibernate as autumn fades to winter. They might be able to find a good spot in a bush, hedgerow, fallen trees or leaves or they may use materials around them to build a nest like structure also known as a hibernaculum. In more urban areas hedgehogs may even nest in log piles, under garden sheds or in compost heaps. They will choose a spot dependent on the temperature and weather conditions, in milder winter they may stay active for longer into the winter and find a spot that won't be too hot on warmer winter days.
Sadly, over the past few decades hedgehog numbers have dropped dramatically. This is due to number of factors but the most prominent is habitat loss. Many once biodiverse rural areas are now much more urbanised, and hedgehogs struggle to live with the lack of woodland and limited access to gardens with fences and walls. Thankfully with the recent increase of awareness around hedgehogs urban hedgehog numbers are beginning to become steadier and gradually increase. You will often hear or see them scuffling through leaves and bushes in the evening.
There are a few ways that you can help hedgehogs during autumn. ‘Hedgehog doors’ in fences and walls can allow access to gardens and parks and purpose built hedgehog houses give hedgehogs a comfortable place to rest and hibernate where natural habitat may be limited. Leaving piles of leaves, logs and compost heaps in your garden over winter can also provide a perfect hibernation spot for hedgehogs. One more thing you can do this year to help out the hedgehogs is feeding them at night. Leaving out a small saucer of water and a small saucer of berries, a good quality chicken based cat food or purpose made hedgehog food from a pet shop can give them an extra boost of calories in time for winter. Just be sure to cut up any food nice and small and stay away from chewy meat, citrus and artificial additives in food as this can sometimes upset a hedgehogs stomach. When feeding hedgehogs, you can also sit and watch quietly from a distance; if you’re lucky, they may even eat right in front of you.
Even the smallest changes to your garden or an addition to your local park can help out our furry friends when they need it most.
If you happen to see a hedgehog, please upload your siting using the I Record app or via the JBC website. This helps us monitor hedgehog numbers and keep track of where they are.
If you find a sick, injured or disorientated hedgehog it is best to ring Jersey Hedgehogs emergency line on 01534 734340. This line is available 8am-8pm or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice.
For more information or advice visit http://www.jerseyhedgehogs.co.uk - JERSEY HEDGEHOG PRESERVATION GROUP - Home or Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) - Woodland Trust
You can also ring the JSPCA on 07797 720331 or New Era Vets on 07797 711585 for a free 24hr emergency service. Sick and injured hedgehogs can then be properly cared for and rehabilitated if necessary.
Photo credits: Jo Nash (June 2020) Aaron Peel (2021)