COLUMN: Autumn brings out the hedgehogs

Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, foraging amongst leaves in garden environment, UK
Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, foraging amongst leaves in garden environment, UK

This week’s guest column comes from Chris Andrews, visitor services officer at RSPB Frampton Marsh...

Autumn is most certainly with us now. There is a chill in the air and the leaves are changing colour. V

erdant green becomes warm colours of yellow, brown and russet red. Gentle drifts of them lie on the ground, creating a multi-coloured carpet.

Great for kids, who can remember how much fun it was to kick piles of leaves sending them fountaining into the air? Maybe not so much fun for the gardeners and street sweepers who have to clean them up!

All these leaves provide a handy resource for one of our most recognisable and loved creatures, the hedgehog.

Even if you haven’t been lucky enough to see one, you will probably be familiar with the image of the small spiky ball, trundling around in search of food. They also appear in our childhood with characters as diverse as Mrs Tiggy- Winkle and Sonic.

Hedgehogs like to feed on slugs, worms and insects. In the winter when the temperatures drop, these disappear. Faced with this, hedgehogs would starve to death.

So instead they feed like mad during the glut of autumn, building up fat reserves. Then, when the weather turns they find a nice cosy corner, curl up and sleep through the winter.

A nice big pile of dead leaves is ideal for this, or a stack of old wood. Which sometimes lead to unfortunate accidents, as these often turn out to be unlit bonfires.

If you are making a bonfire, either to get rid of garden waste or for an event like Halloween, please check it beforehand to make sure you haven’t picked up a lodger.

Hedgehogs need all the help they can get. Nationally, their numbers have dropped by a third over the last 10 years, and are only three per cent of what they were in 1950.

Loss of habitat is seen as the major cause, with the hedges that gave them their name being grubbed up in favour of larger fields.

This process has now been halted and even fresh hedges planted. But overall the countryside is a lot poorer in terms of the creepy-crawlies that hedgehogs like to eat. Hence the drop in their numbers. So do help the hogs. Check those bonfires.

And if you know you have one in your garden, help them bulk up by putting out some food. Never bread and milk, this makes them ill. Non-fishy cat or dog food would be ideal. Then you too can have one of these delightful creatures living alongside you.