Save Our Hedgehogs!
PUBLISHED: 11:48 12 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013
Bonfire Night reminders from the Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue Centre. Report by Elizabeth Edwin
Hedgehogs need all the friends they can get, and they have very good friends in Maureen and Derek Webb of the Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue at Bridstow, near Ross-on-Wye. Furze Pig is an Old English name for the hedgehog, which is one of Britain's oldest mammals.
Ross-on-Wye has a particular association with hedgehogs. An earlier name for the area around it was Archenfield, which came from the Celtic name 'Ergyng', meaning 'Land of the Hedgehog'. "There are hedgehog motifs on the mayor's chain, on the badge of the John Kyrle High School, on monuments in St Mary's Church, and on the Market Hall; and there used to be one on the drum when there was a town band," says Maureen.
Although history may revere them here, countrywide the hedgehog today faces many problems. This is the time of year when they are particularly at risk from the bonfires prepared for Guy Fawkes Night, in which they may be nesting unnoticed as the colder weather approaches.
"Bonfires are a hazard at any time of the year," says Maureen. "The best idea is to stack up the material to be burned in a separate place from where the bonfire is to be lit, and only move it to the bonfire site just before lighting."
Maureen explains that hedgehogs do not stick to just one nest - they move around and tend to have two or three places where they may settle. If they have been out at night foraging, they may settle down for a sleep instead of returning 'home' - and a bonfire or compost heap will provide comfortable accommodation. For this reason sharp-pronged tools should not be used when sifting through either of these.
"Another garden hazard is the strimmer," says Maureen. "If a hedgehog is lying in long grass it can suffer a very nasty injury - and I have had to deal with many." A hedgehogs found snoozing in a bonfire or elsewhere should be moved carefully, with its surrounding nesting material, to a place where it can continue its sleep in safety.
Garden ponds present another danger, Maureen points out. "Hedgehogs love water, so they are attracted to ponds. They can swim well, but if there is no means of climbing out, such as a pile of stones or rough-surfaced sloping bank side, they are likely to drown. Swimming pools are an even greater hazard, and should be kept covered to protect all wildlife, as well as domestic pets.
Colder weather in itself is not a problem, for hibernation should see a hedgehog safely through the winter. What is a problem is the changing climate. The fluctuating temperatures that we are experiencing, with days of winter warmth rather than cold, inhibits true hibernation. The result is hedgehogs waking up sooner than they should.
At this time of the year Maureen expects an influx of 'autumn juveniles' and 'winter babies'. The autumn juveniles are those born in April or May. They need to have gained at least 600 grams in weight to have sufficient fat reserves to see them through hibernation. Any not of this weight need to be kept in indoors and built up until they have the necessary reserves for release. "They need to be well above the minimum weight," says Maureen, "as they will lose more during the winter."
The winter babies are those born later in the year. Because of the changing climate, hedgehogs are tending to have three rather than only one or two litters a year. The late arrivals and their mothers will be looking for food when it has become scarce.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures, so any seen during the daytime are in need of help, and need to be taken indoors for warmth and food. Meat-based dog or cat food is a good standby but, emphasises Maureen, definitely not bread and milk, as the hedgehogs cannot digest the lactose in the milk.
Maureen first began rescue work with wildlife nearly 20 years ago, and more recently this has been concentrated on hedgehogs. She and Derek can now accommodate up to 20 at a time. They have adapted a stable to hold both heated cages for those hedgehogs in need of special care, and 'cold' cages for those well enough to cope with the level of temperatures that can lead them to hibernate. In the garden are runs for hedgehogs well enough to be outdoors but not to be released to fend for themselves.
If you find a hedgehog in need of help, Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue is the place to call. "We cover a wide, wide area," says Maureen. This includes both south and north Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and further afield.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has a helpline giving details of rescue centres in other areas.
Sadly, Maureen notices that numbers of hedgehogs are declining. This was reflected on a national scale last year by the BHPS's 'Hogwatch' survey, in which she was one of the many observers throughout the country who took part.
"Both their rural and urban environments are under threat," says Maureen - "those in the country from the loss of traditionally-laid, thick hedges, and those in towns through the paving over of gardens and the selling off of garden plots for more houses to be built. Normally, hedgehogs are well provided for in the urban environment.
"People don't realise how endangered hedgehogs are," she says regretfully. "How sad it would be for future generations not to see our oldest mammal in future years. That would be terrible."
Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue (contact details to follow)
British Hedgehog Preservation Society
Hedgehog House, Dhustone, Ludlow, SY8 3PL
helpline 01584 890801