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Help the Hedgehogs
A guest post by Kelsey Warren-McCann
My name is Kelsey *insert shy wave here* and I am an animal lover, by nature and trade. I have a degree in animal science and have worked for wildlife and animal charities. Hedgehogs and rabbits are my specialties and I am qualified in hedgehog first aid and rehabilitation.
In 2018 I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called Fibromyalgia, which meant my career goals had to change drastically. Nowadays, I can be found writing or working at my desk and looking after my two house bunnies and geriatric no-eared kitty!
So although my life hasn’t gone the way I was hoping, and I may no longer become a top hedgehog researcher and conservationist (at least in this lifetime), I’m trying to employ the glass-half-full approach and create some ways I can still promote animal welfare. So, I was absolutely thrilled when Zabby suggested I pen a few lines on my life with hedgehogs.
I first encountered ’hogs in the way I’m sure many of you may have - we had the occasional visitor to our garden in the 90s. Beatrix Potter has been a great love of my life and, of course, Mrs Tiggywinkle was always my favourite. Hedgies, and the fact they can tuck themselves away to keep safe and warm, resonate with my introverted nature. How something sooooo prickly can, if it feels safe enough, unfurl to show you such beauty warms my heart endlessly.
My love for our prickly garden friends even caused me to steal a library book from school once! It was called The Hedgepig (William Shakespeare referred to them in this way in several of his works). Looking back, I see this as the first moment I was unable to resist having hedgehogs in my life.
Fast forward a decade or so and I have been fortunate enough to have worked in hands-on roles with hedgehogs at local wildlife rescues and animal charities. I have successfully reared and rehabilitated dozens of ‘hedgepigs’, and each one has felt like gold dust in my hands.
For my dissertation I collected local hedgehog population data in order to find out what areas had healthy populations. I then drew conclusions as to why this may be, offering solutions that could be implemented to attract them elsewhere.
I was surprised at how ‘hogs are best able to thrive in urban habitats, as opposed to rural habitats. There are many things affecting the decline of the hedgehog, but knowing that in some areas we have already lost over 70% of our population, I couldn’t believe how easy it could be to make steps to reverse this.
Hedgehogs may be one of Britain’s most-loved wildlife species, but we are not only failing to protect them, we are majorly contributing to their decline. With our modern day solid fencing, we are quite literally stopping hedgehogs in their tracks and preventing them from travelling to enough gardens to feed and house themselves. One of the biggest things we can do to help is cut CD-sized holes in our fences to allow them back into our gardens.
It’s an important time of year for hedgehogs in the UK at the moment, as they will be busy trying to gain weight to hibernate, something that is getting increasingly difficult with restricted access to food sources. Please help them if you can, underweight hedgehogs will not survive hibernation. Hedgehogs should be round in appearance, so if you see an underweight hedgehog, please call your local wildlife rescue immediately (do not attempt to rescue and rehabilitate yourself, this is causing many hedgehogs to die as they need very specialist care).
Hedgehogs will also be building nests to hibernate in at the moment. They need to be very warm to see them through the winter months, so it’s an important time to follow the advice of leaving leaf piles etc for them to collect from. You can find some more ways to help below.
It’s estimated that ’hogs could be extinct within a decade. As a keystone species, if they are struggling, it shows what a dire crisis the whole ecosystem is in. Let’s be the generation that says, “not on our watch”! Our actions affect all life on Earth, so let’s care, and let’s be kind. Nothing is too small to make a difference.
Love and hedgehugs, Kelsey xo
Here’s a little list of Dos and Don'ts to help our prickly friends:
Create hedgehog highways by cutting a hole in your fence.
Move bonfire piles before lighting them and light from one side.
Add ramps to ponds to allow hedgehogs to exit from water sources.
Check gardens before strimming etc.
Feed and water: Hogs are lactose intolerant so should never be given milk. Water is perfect and much needed; 90% of all hogs coming into care are dehydrated. Wet and dry cat food is perfect, there’s no need for expensive hedgehog food. It is a myth that hedgehogs cannot eat fish flavoured food, but many do not like it.
Make ‘hog houses, create compost heaps and leave leaf litter for them to nest in.
Avoid leaving out netting/wire/litter hedgehogs can become tangled in.
Leave an area of your garden to grow wild.
Put up a solid fence, if you can avoid it - hedgerows are much friendlier to wildlife, allowing access, shelter and sometimes food.
Don’t feed hedgehogs bread, milk, peanuts, sunflower seeds or mealworms. Feeding mealworms in any circumstance is incredibly dangerous, causing metabolic bone disease.
Don’t keep your garden pristine. Wild gardens or wild patches are a haven.
Don’t use pesticides or harmful slug pellets.
Don’t pick hedgehogs up for fun - stress weakens their immune system.
Don’t ignore hedgehogs. If you see an injured hedgehog, or one out in the day, call your local wildlife rescue.
Kelsey is an animal lover with a degree in animal science-hedgehogs, cats & rabbits are her specialties and she is qualified in hedgehog first aid and rehabilitation.
Kelsey would like to encourage you to support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, where you can also find out more about how to help hedgehogs.
Huge thanks to Kelsey for sharing her knowledge with us! This article is an edited version of an article Kesley wrote for a magazine I used to run called the Procrastination Paper.
I’m currently looking for people to write guest posts for October, so please email me if you’re interested in contributing something!
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