Brighton Hedgehog Friendly Campus

Hibernating Hedgehogs

Here in the UK Hedgehogs are one of very few mammals that truly hibernate, using this as a strategy to survive during the winter months when their food sources are scarce. Other species in the UK may adopt daily torpor (a reduced state of activity) like birds do, or under go a shorter period of hibernation like the Pipistrelle bats, which hibernate in roosts. Hedgehogs in the UK typically hibernate from October to April. During Autmun hedgehogs are busy foraging for food and building up their fat reserves. Then then seek out quiet, covered spots or build their own hibernaculum (from twigs, and leaves) to spend the winter months. During this time, a hedgehog’s metabolism slows down, experiencing decreases in their heart rate, respiration rate and a internal body temperature. This conserves energy and allows them to survive the winter months.

Habitats with ample leaf litter, log piles and thick undergrowth are vital if hedgehogs are to undergo hibernation without disturbance. However, as climate change alters seasonal cues, temperatures and more, it is increasingly important to ensure these animals and other wildlife have access to food, hibernation sites and safe corridors to move throughout these habitats.

Research by Dr Pat Morris in 1970 highlighted the direct link between climate change and hedgehog hibernation. Observing that hedgehogs arose from hibernation three weeks earlier in S/W England than in Scotland, furthermore, showing a trend of prolonged inactivity and signs of late-entering into torpor. This influences hedgehog fat reserves and can cause premature arousal from torpor and may affect the overall fitness and long-term survival of the species.

So, until they awake from their slumber,  be careful to not disturb areas that they could be using. For example, if the garden is getting a haircut be sure to check the areas you plan to trim. Let hedgehogs sleep, curled up and cosy in their shelters waiting for temperatures to warm and spring to bring a bounty of food for them and their young. In urban areas, leaving leaf piles and log piles can provide just what a tired hedgehog needs for their winter rest. Other ways you can help these sleepy mammals is by ensuring dedicated ‘messy’ areas in our gardens and spaces, providing water and perhaps supplementary food. And by clearing areas that can be used as corridors, hedgehogs can move more freely if they are awoken early to find a new location, this will also support them whilst foraging for food and help reduce the risk of injury.

If you are concerned for a hedgehog and think one has woken or is too small to survive their hibernation, please contact The British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801.

-Blog post written by Ella Scott, student in ecology and conservation at University of Brighton

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