The number of hedgehogs taken to RSPCA wildlife centres has hit a 5-year high for the January to October period, representing a 22% increase this year so far.
During October, 2,123 hedgehogs were admitted to an RSPCA wildlife centre, compared to 1,739 in 2018. By mid-November, 200 hedgehogs had already been admitted for specialist care.
“It’s going to be a difficult year for hedgehogs,” says RSPCA Scientific Officer, Evie Button. “As we head towards the hibernation period, we’re seeing a surge in hedgehogs being brought to our centres by concerned members of the public and the RSPCA’s own officers. We could be in for a record-breaking year.”
“While it’s impossible to know exactly why we are seeing so many more hedgehogs this year, some potential causes could be if they’re having trouble finding food this year, changes in weather that affected the timing of the breeding season, or even that people are more aware and concerned about hedgehogs so are reporting them to us more often.”
Hedgehogs must have enough fat reserves for them to survive the hibernation period. As autumn turns to winter, however, insect prey becomes scarcer and young hogs may not reach the appropriate 500g weight threshold needed to survive the hibernation period.
RSPCA wildlife centres see an annual increase in hedgehog admissions this time of year. Hedgehogs are often brought in that are underweight and possibly orphaned, as they are not able to put on as much weight without their mother’s help.
During milder winter days, however, hedgehogs may wake up from hibernation to forage for food or move their nest sites. During such times, it is difficult for the RSPCA to efficiently manage the number of admitted hedgehogs requiring specialist care from those that are periodically active.
To help nature lovers decide if a hedgehog requires help or can be left to its hibernation preparations, the RSPCA has compiled a hedgehog weight guide based on fruit sizes.
“It’s important to ensure that our scarce resources are targeted at the animals most in need, but it can be quite tricky to tell whether a hedgehog really needs help or not,” says Button, “using fruit sizes as a guide is a useful way of working out whether the animal’s healthy or in trouble.
“If the hog is mango-sized or even smaller, it needs to be taken to a rescue centre. At this size, the hedgehog will probably weigh less than 450g and is unlikely to survive the winter without expert care. But if it’s the size of a pineapple, there’s no need to worry. That hedgehog will have reached a very healthy weight and can be left in peace to carry on with its preparations for hibernation.”
If you’re concerned about a wild animal’s welfare, you can contact the RSPCA advice line on 0300 123 4999. More information about how to help the hedgehogs in your garden can be found on the RSPCA website.
Main image: hedgehog in leaves. © Michael Milfeit/Getty