Wildlife watch Help our spiky friends survive winter
Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve assistant ranger Jenny Mann would like to tell readers all about prickly little friends... Over the past 10 years, the UK’S hedgehog population has declined by about a third, but it’s not too difficult for us humans to help boost the health, and hopefully populations, of our spiky neighbours.
One of the easiest measures is to provide supplementary foods throughout the summer and just before hibernation begins.
Hedgehogs are one of the UK’S only‘true’hibernators, and from October to March each year they enter a state known as‘torpor’.
During this time, hedgehogs will lower their body temperatures to match their surroundings in order to save energy, and while they are not asleep in this state, their bodily functions will be very slow.
During hibernation, the hedgehog will live off the fat stores it has built up during summer, so extra food sources will ensure our hedgehogs are ready for a cold winter.
The best thing for this is a meat-based pet food, full of protein and fats.
Recent studies have shown that mealworms, a once-popular feed for hedgehogs, can actually be detrimental to their bone health – so it’s best to steer clear of these in the future.
Once the fat stores have been built up and the temperatures start to drop, hedgehogs will begin looking for a hibernacula (their hibernation nest).
This is naturally within a thicket of dead wood or piles of leaves and compost. However, they will also nest in ready-made hedgehog homes like those built by our young Wildlife Watchers last weekend.
During our workshop, we built three houses, complete with a hedgehog-sized tunnel and packed with hay to keep our spiky residents cosy through the winter months.
The houses were also given a green roof of soil, moss and vegetation to further insulate the hedgehogs in the depths of winter.
With habitat loss occurring all over the UK, building a cosy hedgehog home is a great way to offer them shelter through the colder months, but you shouldn’t be alarmed if you see one or two wandering around during November and December.
This is normal, especially in milder winters, and most hedgehogs will move to a different nesting area at least once during the hibernation period.
New House ‘Thistle’the hedgehog tries out one of the hedgehog houses made by young Wildlife Watchers and rangers at the Falls of Clyde Wildlife ReservePicture by Laura Preston