Wildlife: what happens when a Scottish hedgehog hibernates?
Taking good care of the natural environment and the wildlife in and around our parks is incredibly important to us here at Argyll Holidays. So much so that all parks in the Argyll Holidays Group hold the Gold David Bellamy Award for Conservation, the highest accolade you can achieve. You can read more about our commitment to doing things the green way here.
One of the native Scottish creatures we turn our attention to in the autumn is the hedgehog. They usually go into hibernation in October/November – sometimes December if it’s unseasonably mild. The time leading up to this is a key time for building up their bodyweight to sustain them through the winter. Sadly, their numbers are in decline in the UK, so here’s a closer look at what happens to the loveable wee creatures during hibernation and how we can all play our part in helping them out.
What is hibernation?
Very few UK mammals actually go into what’s known as true hibernation – only hedgehogs, hazel dormice and native bat species. During this sleep-like state, their body temperature drops and their heart rate slows – even their breathing reduces right down to about one breath every few minutes. This allows them to save as much energy as possible. They’re very vulnerable during this time, meaning we must take care not to disturb or harm them in any way. They’ll resurface fully when the temperature rises in March/April, though they may pop up briefly if there’s a warmer day for more food before going back down.
Where do hedgehogs like to hibernate?
They can make a nest pretty much anywhere sheltered and warm where they feel safe. It could be a pile of logs, a small space underneath the floorboards of a shed, or a dedicated hedgehog house that you can make or buy. September / October is a good time to put one out if you would like to encourage one to nest in your garden.
What can I do to help hedgehogs?
It’s estimated that we have lost 30% of the UK’s hedgehog population since 2002, leaving fewer than 1 million. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to support this iconic British species.
Pre-hibernation they need to put on as much body fat as possible to make sure they make it through. Human intervention has led to reduction in the availability of their regular diet of worms, slugs, caterpillars, millipedes and beetles. You can help feed them up by leaving food and water out for them in your gardens at home, as long as you feed them the right things. Never feed them milk, bread or mealworms as these are not good for them. Instead, put out a small amount meat-based cat or dog food, or cat biscuits – you can even buy dedicated hedgehog food. Leave a small dish of water as well. Make sure the dishes are washed every day to avoid the spread of disease. Stop leaving food out when the food is no longer being taken – as means they’ve gone off to hibernate!
As well as feeding them, you can also make your garden as hedgehog friendly as possible. Leaving some log piles or leaf piles uncleared is good not just for the hedgehogs themselves, but for the various bugs and beetles they eat. Avoid netting and wire fences if you can help it, as they may get caught in these, and try and make sure there is a route through your garden as they do like to travel around. Up to a mile per night in fact! They only need a small gap; they can squeeze through a space as small as 13cm. We like create bug hotels on our holiday parks and leave wildflower patches. Hedgehogs are pretty good swimmers, but if you have a pond, make sure there is an easy route out of the water for them as they will not be able to climb up a steep side.
Do not disturb!
Once hibernation season has begun, take care not to harm hedgehogs who may have made a nest in bushes, compost heaps and the like – so have a thorough check before you get stuck in with any tools! Our groundskeepers are well-trained in what to do. Bonfires wood piles can make an appealing home for hedgehogs to hide away in, so try and build the bonfire as close to setting-fire time as you can, or move the wood pile to a different spot before lighting.