We spoke to Gerry, one of our passionate Forest Rangers from the Forest of Dean all about his love for hedgehogs. He is a hedgehog champion which involves taking action to help make our location and local schools as friendly as possible for hedgehogs, this includes ensuring that there are ‘hedgehog highways’ by making small gaps through fences for hedgehogs to easily pass through, as well as creating habitats by piling up stacks of twigs and leaves for them to use during hibernation.
He shares his passion, knowledge and expertise with our guests as well as children and teachers from local schools through Forest Ranger activities and Forest Schools sessions so that they know what to do if they find a sick or injured hedgehog. Over to Gerry to tell us where his passion began.
Growing up in rural Ireland, sightings of Hedgehogs should have been a common occurrence for me. Sadly they were not, I can only recall a single occasion when I spotted one and that was when one of my school friends excitedly proclaimed that he had one in his garden! He proudly showed me his Hedgehog under some dark shrubs but if I’m honest I’m not even sure that I got a definitive sighting! Into my adulthood I gradually started seeing Hedgehogs with a little more frequency however it was only when I began to forge a career in conservation that I realised how low their numbers had dropped across Britain & Ireland.
Imagine my delight when I started work as a ranger in the Forest of Dean and began to have regular encounters with this likable spiky mammal. It seemed that despite their national decline in numbers, I was based in a Hedgehog Hotspot! Over the last few years I have frequently encountered hogs on their nightly forays and even witnessed territorial disputes and mating rituals. It’s been quite an education!
Despite my increase in Hedgehog contact however, I became more aware than ever of the pressures that they face. On a winter visit to a local school for an education session the children proudly told me that they had recently found a young Hedgehog in the school grounds. I knew that this wasn’t good news as a small hog in cold weather would have a limited survival chance but unfortunately I couldn’t find the individual. The following week I did find him but sadly he was already dead. Over the following weeks I found two more small dead Hedgehogs in the school grounds. Upon further research, I realised that they were autumn juveniles, born late in the season and old enough to be away from their mother but too small to hibernate. Hedgehogs can overwinter at 450gms but are more likely to survive hibernation at 600gms. They are also more likely to be in better condition when they emerge from their long sleep if they are a healthy robust size during the winter months. A general rule of thumb is that they will not survive the hibernation period if they are small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.
Despite the sadness of finding the already dead individuals it did serve as a valuable education encounter for the pupils and staff of the school as they are now more aware of what to do if similar circumstances occur in future. Also on a personal level I felt motivated to go on a Hedgehog First Aid course so that I could understand and recognise the pressures that the species face. It also encouraged me to connect with local Hedgehog carers so that if I found any individuals in need of specialist attention I could get them to the right place to give them the best chance of survival.
The training and networking paid off as the following winter we found two juveniles during the day that would not have survived without intervention. They were brought in for a controlled hibernation and were released as healthy robust Hedgehogs the following spring!
How can you help struggling hedgehogs this winter and throughout the year?
Implementation of some simple measures can really help Hedgehogs. These include:
- Linking your garden to others by creating a Hedgehog highway. This can be done by ensuring there is a gap for hedgehogs to pass through. 13cm by 13cm is sufficient enough. Children should ask a parent’s permission beforehand and get their help if required to create a hole in a fence. You can even get a Hedgehog sign over it so that it looks quite neat and is a trendy part of your garden. Visit Hedgehog Street for ideas!
- Once Hedgehogs can pass freely into your garden, you can order or build a home for them. It’s great fun for the whole family to get involved!
- Create dead wood piles in a quiet undisturbed corner of your garden and heap lots of leaves on top. These provide a safe secure site for hibernating and also provide the Hedgehog with a steady supply of insect food. Replenish the pile with extra branches, twigs and leaves from time to time.
- If you have a garden pond, ensure that there is a ramp or shallow side so that mammals can get out if they fall in. Hedgehogs are good swimmers but will struggle to get out of a pond if there is not access for them.
- If you leave food out for hogs, please do not give them milk, meaty cat or dog food is best along with a shallow saucer of water.
- Become a Hedgehog Champion and ensure that your school and garden are as friendly as possible for the species.