A few years ago I became involved Warrington Hedgehog Rescue. The rescue centre was set up by a resident of Warrington who took it upon herself to care for injured hedgehogs in her local area. As word of the rescue centre spread more and more hedgehogs began to be admitted by concerned members of the public, and a call was put out amongst the local wildlife community for offers of help.
The centre had the facilities to house up to 20 hogs at any one time, some of which were permanent residents who due to their injuries could not be re-released into the wild. The hogs received full veterinary care and medication for any injuries, and then were cared for at the rescue centre until considered fit enough for release.
Volunteers were required to help care for the hogs in the centre and also to provide foster care for hogs in their own home. I offered to take hogs and foster them over the winter months. Juvenile hedgehogs born late in the year are often too small and have insufficient body weight to survive cold winters. Hogs need a minimum amount of body fat to protect them from the cold and to sustain them through the season when food is scarce or they will spend time in hibernation. Hogs ideally need to be at a minimum weight of 600g to have the best chance of surviving the winter.
Unfortunately the owner found she could no longer manage the rescue centre, but thankfully a network of carers had been established across the area who could continue to care for hogs.
I initially fostered two hogs (named Poppy and Smitty by the rescue centre). The hogs were kept outside in my shed, which I had to amend to suit the hogs – I installed a window as it benefits the hogs to be able to distinguish between day and night. I installed two rabbit hutches and ensured the shed was secure. I went on to foster a number of hogs over subsequent winters, the most recent one being Cindy.
The hogs are weighed weekly to assess changes in their weight – during hibernation weight may decrease, but whilst the hogs are awake and eating regularly their weight should increase. The hogs are provided with bedding, fresh water and a variety of foods – mainly tinned cat or dog food (not containing fish or milk) and dry cat biscuits, but also treats such as dried mealworms and peanuts. The hogs are very messy and the hutch needs to be cleaned daily.
If the weather is sufficiently cold the hogs will hibernate, at which point they are left dry food and monitored. During warmer winters hogs will not hibernate, staying awake throughout the season and requiring daily care.
Once spring in underway and the hogs have reached a sufficient weight they are released back to the wild. Release locations are carefully selected to ensure the hogs will have good foraging habitat and be safe from harm. Many hogs receive injuries from attacks by domestic pets or by becoming trapped in fences, grids and other structures. Hogs are also at risk from road traffic and from indirect poisoning from slug pellets.
Whilst having to clean out a dirty hedgehog hutch in inclement weather over the winter can seem laborious it is very satisfying to know that my actions are helping a species which has undergone a staggering decline in population.
Paul, UES Ecologist