Before I arrived in England, I was so excited to see a hedgehog in the wild. I love animals (sometime I’ll post my videos of Canadian beavers!), and we don’t have hedgehogs in Canada. Hedgehogs are nocturnal insectavores – who doesn’t love a critter that eats the bugs from your garden! – and with their round, spiny bodies and pointed faces are the definition of cute.
I was warned not to be disappointed. Hedgehog populations are declining sharply – this article suggests by over a third between 2003 and 2012. My English hosts tell me that they commonly had hedgehogs in their garden a decade ago, but haven’t seen one in years since the area has had more fencing put up.
Still, I am determined. Yes, I am the weird lady you’ve seen walking around Grimsby peering under hedges and checking the treeline at the edge of fields for any sign of animal life.
Human development makes life difficult for these small animals. Habitat reduction caused by buildings and fences, pesticide use reducing their insect food base. This can make it tough for hedgehogs to reach the weight they need to make it through the winter (ideally around 650g). Plus an undernourished hedgehog is more likely to become sick due to infection or parasite burden.
Luckily, there are people fighting to help the hogs. I was invited to visit one woman, Lucy, who rehabilitates sick and injured hedgehogs and bats in her Grimsby home.
Lucy has studied hedgehog rehabilitation, and is very involved in local rescues, bringing the latest understanding of hedgehog rehabilitation and health to the local rescue community. Lucy takes on some of the sickest hogs. These are wild hedgehogs that will be cared for, and released when they are healthy and will have the best chance of success in the wild. As human intervention seems to be a major factor in the decline of the hogs, human help is a necessary step in attempting to help the population stabilize.
Lucy invited me over when she was going to be weighing the hedgehogs – as they are wild, and in some cases quite sick, they need to be disturbed as little as possible so that their anxiety levels stay low. These are not pets.
I was surprised at how big some of the hedgehogs were, as I’ve only seen small domesticated ones in pet shops in Canada. When Lucy lifted them out of their cages, their spines crackled like fall leaves. It was a very amazing experience, and I am grateful that I have seen these incredible critters up close.
A couple of the hogs we got to see were Cliff, who is recovering from an injured leg that impairs his walking, and Julio, who had a bad case of ringworm, a fungal infection that caused his hair and spines to fall out leaving him defenseless. As you can see from the picture above, Julio’s spines have regrown and he is likely to be released before winter. While Cliff’s leg is improving, he is losing weight – likely due to the stress of being in captivity. Lucy faces a tough decision: does she move him into a hutch in her garage, which would be a little more homelike but risks cold weather when his weight is down, or does she keep him inside and hope that he can be coaxed to eat properly. Sometimes there is no right answer; hedgehog rescuers can only do their best, and hope that it will be enough.
Not every story is a success story. Right before winter is the busiest season for hedgehog rescue, as underweight hogs need to be taken in and fed to be given a fighting chance. When I messaged her for an update on the hedgehogs, she told me about Nico, a hog that died on the car ride on the way home from picking him up.
Lucy explains that “the trouble is people aren’t aware. They see a hog during the day and don’t realise how much trouble it’s in until day three when it’s still there, massively dehydrated and fly struck.”
She recommends that if you see a hog that may be in trouble, contact a local rescue as soon as possible to determine whether it needs to be taken in for care.
Lucy also had a bat in her care. Meatloaf, besides having an awesome name, is a pipistrelle, the teeniest bat I’ve ever seen. He’s having trouble flying, so Lucy’s currently working on getting him to a carer who has some space so he can practice using his wings before release.
Lucy estimates she has spent more than a couple thousand pounds of her own money caring for hedgehogs over the past few years, as she is responsible for everything from cages to food to vet bills. Some veterinary care has been donated, but not all of it. And Lucy is determined that if a hog needs care, it’s going to get it. As she works, and spends almost all of her spare time rehabilitating hogs and bats – some hedgehogs need constant feeding when they come in – she does not get much fundraising done either. However, she does accept donations from the public, all of which goes straight into wildlife care.
Lucy’s goal is to start a network of hedgehog foster carers, so that she can educate more hedgehog rehabilitators, sharing her expertise and enabling more sick and injured hedgehogs to receive skilled and knowledgeable care.
How you can help: Hedgehog Lifelife has a GoFundMe set up to accept donations. Your donations go directly to buying essentials like food, cages, bedding, medication, heat pads, feeding tips and needles, as well as offsetting the cost of veterinary care. This is busy season for hedgehog rescues, and every little bit helps. Follow this link for more details and to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/hedgehoglifeline
You can also Like Hedgehog Lifeline on Facebook to keep up to date with the rescue, and to find out more ways to help.