Entering Autumn with Hedgehogs in mind

Jon Hawkins - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

As the leaves start to fall and the weather turns colder, it is a vital time for hedgehogs, working hard to fatten up throughout autumn, ready for their long winter sleep.

There is only one species of hedgehog in the UK – the West European hedgehog Erinaceous europaeus. Over millennia of natural selection, the hedgehog has lost its capacity to tolerate cold, which has led to them developing the technique of hibernation.

Their lack of insulation would mean constant foraging during the coldest time of the year, but the hedgehog’s natural diet is dominated by invertebrates which unfortunately scurry away over the course of winter, leaving hedgehogs with no other option.

Hedgehogs typically hibernate from autumn to spring (October - March), but this can vary depending on the temperature and food available. 

Hedgehog curled up in autumn leaves (captive, rescue animal)

Hedgehog curled up in autumn leaves (captive rescue animal) - Tom Marshall

Hibernation is a complicated and often perilous energy conservation strategy, the hedgehog abandons being warm-blooded (very costly in terms of energy) and allows its temperature to fall to match that of the environment, although not below freezing.

The hedgehog can survive with a very low heart rate, body temperature and respiration rate without using up valuable energy, until its main food source returns in the spring.

During autumn, hedgehogs are busy preparing for this important process by:

· Fattening up on lots of autumn insects, and food provided by you!

· Sifting through autumn’s fallen leaves for some nest building.

· House hunting to be ready for winter.

Here are a few ways you can help...

 

Supplementary food

A good wildlife garden should already provide plenty of wild food for hedgehogs well into the autumn, but homeowners providing supplementary food and water can be vital too.

Supplementary hedgehog food

(c) Kathryn Jones

Although some larger male hedgehogs start to hibernate as early as September if the weather is cooler, many females have second litters around this time. They won’t hibernate until the babies have left home and young hoglets will then face a battle to reach hibernation weight before winter.

You can help hedgehogs out by putting out either poultry meaty cat food and biscuits, poultry dog meat, or hedgehog brand pellets and wet food which can be bought from local pet shops, outdoor shops, or online.

Leave those leaves!

It’s really tempting to be tidy and remove all the fallen autumn leaves, but you’ll be robbing a hedgehog of a cosy nest.

Autumn leaves in a hedgehog nest box

(c) Kathryn Jones

Hedgehogs prefer to use dry, medium sized deciduous leaves for their nests. Oak, hazel and beech are great choices as well as leaves from fruit trees like apple and cherry! Rake the leaves into piles and try to keep them dry with a shelter, for example by propping a piece of wood  against a fence. You can also leave some straw near potential nest sites or houses to help out!

Homes for hedgehogs

Now is a great time to start put out a hedgehog house. We have guide available here to make your own or you can purchase one online.

Hibernation arms hedgehog house

Hedgehog home (c) Kathryn Jones

Place it in a quiet part of your garden, preferably against a bank, wall or fence. It can really help hedgehogs out if you fill these homes with a small amount of straw. 

They will add to this with natural dried leaves and foliage found around the garden!

Time to put more food out and houses for nesting!

Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

Trainee Hedgehog Officer, Shropshire Wildlife Trust