Posted 10th May 2013
With hedgehog numbers in rapid decline rescue centres all over the country are fighting for their survival. Round the clock feeding, treating and caring has helped thousands of hedgehogs return safely to the wild each year, but what really goes on behind the scenes?
Friends Christine and Liz decided to find out when they set up their own hedgehog rescue centre and charity, Hedgehog Haven, in 2007. Having worked several years together in a wildlife centre, they were both passionate about hedgehogs and particularly concerned about their endangered state. With little space between them the small hedgehogs seemed the perfect animal to care for from home. The Haven now has two rescue centres, one in Colchester and one in Frinton-on-Sea, both run by its founders. They have five volunteers who work with them every week, with Christine and Liz caring full-time for the hedgehogs whilst working hard to fund raise.
A typical day can be up to 18 hours of hard work, starting at around 4am if there's fund-raising to do. Most of the year is hectic, especially summer when there are baby hedgehogs to care for - some requiring food every hour - and autumn when the hedgehogs are getting ready to hibernate. LandLove's Natalie Mason finds out more on the Haven's hard work...
What are the most common injuries you see?
Strimmers are a real danger, we've had lots of hedgehogs with severe head and leg injuries, quite a lot of them have to be put down. Injuries from netting, bonfires, drowning in ponds, elastic bands used by postmen for letters and poisoning from slug pellets are also common. If you see a hedgehog out in the day it is in trouble, as a hedgehog is nocturnal, so you should always seek help.
What kind of care can you provide these hedgehogs from the Haven?
It depends on the injury; we have a very supportive vet who will always fit us in to take a look at severely injured hedgehogs or those that need putting to sleep. We can't do any operations ourselves but we can give antibiotics and injections.
How do you fund these vet bills and the care that the hedgehogs need?
Purely through fund-raising. We have to raise £11,000 a year just for cleaning, food, cages, medication and so on. We fund our petrol, stationery, leaflets and anything else like that completely ourselves. We never use our fund-raising money for anything other than the hedgehogs.
What do you feed the hedgehogs?
People often feed hedgehogs bread and milk, as they eat it, but you should never feed them this as it seriously dehydrates them and can cause enteritis. We feed the hedgehogs dried cat food, though not fish flavour, small dog mix or kitten biscuits, dried meal worms, sunflower hearts, dried fruit, chopped nuts, some slightly fussier hedgehogs prefer tinned dog meat - though none with fish or gravy - and some hedgehogs even like fresh fruit. The biscuits are good for hedgehogs as their teeth can go rotten, so these help to clean them.
How many hedgehogs do you look after?
We have the occasional hedgehogs that come into us during winter, but we are never empty. At one time we were looking after 60 and had 120 out with fosterers. Fosterers help care for hedgehogs when we're full. We advertise on the radio, in local press and online for foster carers. We give them a hibernation cage and let them take care of the hedgehog for the winter, asking if they'd like to do it again the following year. People really enjoy it.
Do you just rescue hedgehogs from the local area?
We receive calls from all over, at all times of the night. We are registered with St. Tiggywinkles who recommend us in this area. We once had a man come all the way from Kent as he had seen our website and was sure he wanted us to care for the injured hedgehog he'd found.
Can people provide any care for the hedgehogs themselves before going to their local rescue centre?
We can give advice over the phone but before you call us we always recommend you bring the hedgehog inside first, as they can be quick to get away if you leave them and are also prone to fly strike (when flies lay eggs on the hedgehogs) if left out in the day. Put the hedgehog in a high-sided box, we recommend a recycling box as we all have them and they can't get out, with newspaper and an old towel, some cat or dog food, water and a hot water bottle that should be kept warm. If they have any obvious injuries take them straight to the vets, you shouldn't be charged as they are a wild animal.
People often worry about picking up a hedgehog and bringing it inside because of fleas, but the fleas are host-specific so don't go anywhere else. We've had around 2,000 hedgehogs over the years and only about 100 of them have actually had fleas. To pick a hedgehog up try and slide your hand underneath or use an old towel or gardening gloves to carefully pick them up.
How long does rehabilitation take?
It can take months depending on the injury or problem. Sometimes hedgehogs won't eat as, like us, they get past the point of being hungry. So we give them a special mix of baby formula with chocolate Complan and syringe feed it to them to get their taste buds going again. We then wean them off of it back to regular food once they are eating properly. It can be very time consuming and difficult to do.
If they are here with something serious we do keep them in and monitor them especially if they are on a drug regime for lung worm or parasites. Hedgehogs needs to be 650g to be a safe enough weight to hibernate, so we monitor that as well. The last thing we do before releasing them back into the wild is try them in the soft release garden enclosure which is a small, secure garden very close to their natural habitat (see picture left).
Are you seeing an increase in injured hedgehogs as the years go by?
We are seeing more and more injuries each year, we had 505 last year, but it could be as we are getting more well known and more people are contacting us. A lot of the hedgehogs we get have to be put to sleep, but the vet won't put a hedgehog down unless they absolutely have to.
Do you release all hedgehogs back into the wild?
Those with a missing limb, neurological problem or hedgehogs who are blind will go to a secure garden instead. A secure garden is one in which a hedgehog cannot get out. We check they are suitable first before sending a hedgehog there. They will have to be fed every day and quite often when the owner of the garden goes away Christine will come and feed the hedgehog in their absence. Healthy hedgehogs will often be released into the gardens or areas they were first found in. Putting a nesting box out for hedgehogs is a good idea to help protect them.
What are hedgehogs actually like?
You get all different characters, some huff and jump when they're grumpy. They're like human beings really in the sense that they all have different personalities.
Hedgehog Haven make their own feeding stations for hedgehogs to allow them to eat safely without other wildlife getting to the food. These sell for £8.50 directly from the Haven and all funds go straight back to the hedgehogs. It is recommended that you leave food out for hedgehogs all year round. Visit www.hedgehoghavenessex.co.uk for more information or to contact the Haven