The 12 days of (a wildlife) Christmas – 6 hogs a -laying

CC Danny McL

For day 6 of our 12 days of (a wildlife) Christmas we’ve swapped 6 geese a-laying for 6 hogs a-laying (down in their cosy nests) as an opportunity to tell you more about hedgehog behaviour through the winter.

Not all mammals in the UK hibernate, in fact hedgehogs are among a small handful alongside dormice and bats. As the temperatures become cooler and their food resources scarcer, hibernation is a tactic used to preserve energy until the warmer months of spring approach. Hedgehogs use nests year round but their hibernation nests are the most robust, relying on medium-sized deciduous leaves and a support structure to hold the leaves in place.

It would be quite a sight to see six hogs a-laying in one cosy nest as our adapted song would suggest - hedgehogs don’t tend to nest together in the wild (though sometimes do in captivity), but wild hedgehogs will nest in high densities. Winter nesting sites can be a limiting factor for hedgehogs and suitable areas of scrub and bramble can therefore be critical winter sites with 10+ hedgehogs nesting in a 200m strip of bramble.

For those of us that don’t have big bramble bushes in our gardens, log piles and gaps under sheds are popular alternatives. Hedgehog houses are becoming increasingly common too and a national survey ran last year by Hedgehog Street gave us some useful insights into their uses. Over 5,000 people responded to the survey and analysis by University of Reading revealed that hedgehogs preferred homemade homes over bought, back gardens over front, houses with dry leaves, pet straw or hay over empty ones and houses that had been in place for a little while over newly introduced ones. So don’t despair if you think your efforts have gone to waste – it may be occupied next year!

 

Hibernation is a flexible process and one influenced by temperature, gender and body condition of the individual hedgehog. Well fed, plump male hedgehogs may begin hibernation sooner than younger, smaller, female hedgehogs. This is because females are often busy rearing hoglets into autumn, whilst males can be busy fattening up for the winter ahead. If you’d like to help your local hogs you can leave out a dish of meaty cat or dog food until it is no longer disappearing each night. Hedgehogs in Ipswich were active well into December last year, so do keen an eye out! If you are worried about the health of a hedgehog please contact British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice. It is also common for hedgehogs to emerge mid-winter during mild spells and some will even most nest during the winter.

Now is the perfect time for creating Hedgehog Highways along your street - why not have a chat to your neighbours and encourage them to link their garden with a CD-sized hole! This is the approach promoted as part of our Ipswich hedgehog project and we have lots more tips for helping hedgehogs on our website, here.