Hedgehogs

Please contact hedgehogs@dorsetmammalgroup.org.uk if you have any questions about hedgehogs.

Hedgehog conservation in Dorset

The Dorset Mammal Group is aiming to reverse the decline of the hedgehog population in Dorset by developing towns and villages into hedgehog friendly habitats. As hedgehogs travel around one mile every night in their quest to find enough food, and a mate, the DMG is trying to make their life easier. We are encouraging residents to develop a hedgehog friendly street by making holes in, or under, their garden fences and walls for hedgehogs to pass through. We are also encouraging residents to adopt hedgehog friendly activities in their garden by providing food and shelter in gardens and where slug pellets are not used. If you have a hedgehog you also have a very efficient slug consumer! Bridport, Piddletrenthide, East Stour and Halstock are already hedgehog friendly towns/villages. Sherborne, Blandford and Drimpton are just starting the journey. Beaminster and Dorchester are likely to be the next towns to develop hedgehog friendly gardens and residents, but we are seeking a couple of additional people to help with the organisation here. Do you live in Dorchester or Beaminster? Could you help?

We are working alongside the People’s Trust for Endangered Species with their Hedgehog Street Project (see http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/news.php/40/uks-first-hedgehog-town-launched).

See our FaceBook page to keep up-to-date with hedgehog activities in Dorset.

Hedgehog Sightings

In addition, if you have any hedgehog records (including road casualties), could you please send them to: records@dorsetmammalgroup.org.uk. Please include the following information: Name of observer, date of sighting, location including six figure grid reference if possible, habitat (urban, woodland, farmland, heath etc), number, whether it was a live sighting or a road casualty. All records will be acknowledged.

hedgehog_slowdown
Our poster should help to increase awareness. Copyright Susy Varndell 2015

General information

The west European hedgehog (scientific name Erinaceus europaeus) is one of about 17 hedgehog species worldwide and unmistakable as Britain’s only spiny mammal. Their highly specialised coat contains around 6,000 creamy-brown spines and hangs around their body in a loose-ish ‘skirt’, concealing greyish fur on their underside, surprisingly long legs and a short tail. As distant relatives of shrews, they have changed little in the past 15 million years.

Where do they live?

They are generalists that can be found across a wide range of rural and urban habitats, although they are absent from moors, coniferous plantations, wetlands and some islands. They are also a common resident of urban areas and have adjusted to garden life with real panache. Hedgehogs are active mostly at night, foraging for invertebrates such as earthworms, beetles and caterpillars, but will also occasionally feed on birds’ eggs, fallen fruit and even carrion.

How should I feed a hedgehog?

The hedgehog’s natural diet mainly consists of slugs, ground beetles, caterpillars and worms. During cold or dry periods, these insects and molluscs become much scarcer in gardens, so hedgehogs will benefit hugely from a shallow dish of water and supplementary feeding.

Hedgehogs will relish any combination of the following:

  • Meat-based dog or cat food
  • Sunflower hearts
  • Dried meal worms
  • Dried fruit

Place the food in a shallow dish and put in a sheltered area of your garden around sunset. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so please do not give them milk.

To avoid the food you put out being eaten by pets or foxes you could make a feeding station that is difficult for anything larger than a hedgehog to access.

You could use a piece of piping, or build a shelter out of bricks and paving stones.

How do they reproduce?

Hedgehogs reach sexual maturity in their second year of life, and after this can breed every year until death. Reproduction occurs any time between April and September, but the period of greatest activity, ‘the rut’, occurs in May and June in Britain. Males attempt to woo females in lengthy encounters that involve much circling and rhythmic snorting and puffing. The commotion can attract rival males to the scene and courtship can thus be interrupted as interlopers are confronted and rival males square up to one another; head-butting and chases are not uncommon.

Why are their numbers declining?

The reasons for hedgehogs disappearing aren’t clear, but more intensive agriculture – with larger fields and the loss of hedgerows and permanent grassland – is likely to have played a role. The use of pesticides too will reduce the amount of prey available. When the habitat provides sufficient cover and good foraging opportunities, predation by badgers is not necessarily a problem for hedgehogs, but in poor habitats, it might have a big impact.

How we can help our hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs travel around one mile every night through our parks and gardens in their quest to find enough food and a mate. If you have an enclosed garden you might be getting in the way of their plans. We can make their life a little easier by removing the barriers within our control – for example, by making holes in or under our garden fences and walls for them to pass through. The gap need only be around 15cm in diameter and so should not affect the safety of any pets.

Things we can do:

  • Remove a brick from the bottom of a boundary wall, cut a small hole in your fence if there are no gaps, dig a channel underneath your wall, fence or gate
  • Do not use slug pellets
  • Plant a hedge rather than build a wall or fence and provide shelter, food and free access all in one

For more information on hedgehogs visit Hedgehog Street.

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