Cast your mind back to February and those lovely, albeit unexpected, days of twenty-one degree sunshine throughout the Tamar Valley. Daily dog walks saw butterflies flitting along sunny banks by day and an equally surprising early emergence from hibernation by hedgehogs during the hours of darkness!
March gave a harsh reminder that winter was far from over and this may have caused problems for hedgehogs unable to replenish valuable fat reserves depleted by a disturbed hibernation. However, unseasonal climate fluctuations are far from the only challenge to our hedgehogs.
Increased use of pesticides, loss of habitat, road deaths and, possibly, in some areas increasing badger numbers (the only natural hedgehog predator in Britain) are understood to have contributed towards declining populations. In 2018 the New Scientist* reported an extremely worrying 66% decline in UK hedgehog numbers over the previous twenty years.
Hedgehog Awareness Week is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and takes place every year. It aims to highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how you can help them.
This year’s event runs from 5th to 11 May and the Charity is asking people to make a space for hedgehogs to live in their garden. This could be in the form of a log pile or wild area (that will also provide a buffet of creepy crawlies) or a more formal hedgehog home. The Society even has a free downloadable plan for building a hedgehog home on their website (www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/hedgehog-homes).
Families and teachers wanting to participate in hedgehog awareness week are especially encouraged to get involved. BHPS Chief Executive, Fay Vass, says; “We would love to see what you have done for Hedgehogs during the week. Send us pictures from the event you organise or of the hedgehog space you create, and if you are on social media do use #hedgehogweek!
This is a really important campaign. Research suggests much of the population decline has been happening in rural areas whereas the urban hedgehog decline has levelled off and, hopefully, is showing signs of a potential turn around.
Households now find themselves at the forefront of being able to make an essential contribution to hedgehog conservation and for gardeners there’s the added incentive of hedgehogs being rather partial to every grower’s sworn enemy – slugs! The BHPS website offers a whole host of information resources including what to do should you find an injured or poorly hedgehog. Not only that, the Society can connect you with hedgehog rescuers in your area.
Linda Squires, from Plymouth, is one such rescuer and incredibly passionate about the cause. She has been rescuing hedgehogs throughout the Tamar Valley for over fifteen years and in recent times has found herself fielding 7-8 phone calls every day from people finding hedgehogs in need of help!
Linda shares the concerns of the BHPS and believes reduced habitat and foraging opportunities have caused real problems. There can also be conflicts between urban life and hedgehogs including dogs, too tidy gardens, fences preventing hedgehogs moving about and use of slug and rodent poisons.
That’s why Linda is pioneering a new approach of prevention being better than cure. She is devoting increasing amounts of her time to running training courses for new hedgehog carers and to promote hedgehog friendly gardening. She also gives talks to groups and, as a former teacher, really enjoys working with schools to teach children the importance of helping hedgehogs.
Sarah Mabbott, a hedgehog rescuer in Liskeard, is enjoying a short break having cared for more than 100 hedgehogs over the last year and recently completed the annual ‘spring returns’ (releasing hedgehogs back into the wild). However, she just knows that the months of May and June will see home gardening projects coinciding with the hedgehog nesting period and expects to be busy again.
Upon talking with Linda and Sarah, a real and pressing need for more hedgehog rescuers becomes apparent. A lot of support and encouragement from a network of rescuers operating across the Tamar Valley (and beyond) awaits anyone able to volunteer.
It sounds well worth the commitment. Linda explains,“Hedgehogs can be extremely resilient and many will survive even bad injuries. However, you need to know what you are doing as some online information is not relevant for our native hedgehogs and trained rescuers are kept up to date with the latest best practice from the BHPS”.
She adds,”My advice to anyone who finds a poorly hedgehog, is keep handling to a minimum, place them on a towel inside a cat sized box, leave somewhere warm and quiet and don’t delay contacting a hedgehog rescuer. Time is of the essence so please don’t send facebook messages or emails, ring a rescuer direct if you have their number or contact the BHPS”.
Details of Linda’s work, forthcoming rescuer and hedgehog friendly gardening courses can be found on the Hedgehog Care and Rehab – Plymouth PL5 Facebook Page. If you are unable to become a hedgehog rescuer there are plenty of other ways you can help:
- Volunteer drivers are always needed to help with transport. This includes night time drivers, local and occasionally long distance journeys to take hedgehogs to sanctuaries
- Businesses and premises able to accommodate donation tins are asked to make contact with Linda
- Anyone who can help with printing leaflets would be greatly appreciated
- The following items are always needed and any such donations would be gratefully received to help keep costs down: Kitchen rolls; Large (70 litre or bigger) dustbin liners; Unopened and in date chicken & jelly dog food/Royal Canin kitten biscuits/or cat biscuits.
BHPS is hoping to raise £1,000 during Hedgehog Awareness Week 2019, You can donate to the 2019 #hedgehogweek appeal at www.justgiving.com/campaign/HAW19
Leaflets and posters are available on the Charity’s website www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk or they can post copies out on request.