Saturday, 7 March 2009

Watch out for Hedgehogs

Over the next few weeks we will start to see Hedgehogs emerge from their annual winter hibernation. Providing individuals managed to find a suitable site in which to hibernate, the cold weather of recent weeks might actually have proved beneficial, with individuals not tempted to emerge early because of unseasonable warmth. Hedgehogs which do emerge too early waste valuable energy reserves and may be unable to complete a successful hibernation should temperatures fall again.

The Hedgehog is one of our most familiar mammals and should be quite unmistakeable; after all, it is our only mammal with a spiny coat! As such, you would think that we should have a pretty good understanding of how it is doing within the county and, indeed, how it is faring elsewhere across Britain. However, our knowledge is far from complete and all that we can really say is that the population is, at best, stable or, more likely, in a gradual long term decline. One particular habitat within which there seems to be strong anecdotal evidence of a decline is gardens. The change here may be linked with the increased use of garden chemicals, some of which may harm Hedgehogs directly or reduce populations of their favoured prey.

Another reason why our knowledge of Hedgehog populations may be less than expected is because of their largely nocturnal habits. While most Hedgehog behaviour takes place at night, they may sometimes be seen at dawn or dusk, or even during daylight if food is in short supply. However, hedgehog droppings are fairly distinctive and this means that the presence of a Hedgehog within a garden can often be determined through a casual search for droppings, ideally on an area of lawn. Activity is most pronounced during May and early June when, on warm nights in particular, you may hear the loud rhythmic ‘snorting’ calls of courting Hedgehogs from your garden. Courtship is a rather ill-tempered affair, the female rebuffing the amorous approaches of a male. The noise may not only wake you from sleep but can also attract other male Hedgehogs who happen to be in the vicinity. This halts the courtship, the male having to see off his rival before returning to the object of his affections (who may have done a bunk).

A new survey is being carried out this spring in order to gain a better understanding of the distribution of the Hedgehog within Norfolk. The survey is being conducted by the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society and a simple recording form can be requested from the County Mammal Recorder, Dr Dave Leech. Send a self-addressed envelope with a first class stamp to Dr Dave Leech, c/o BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

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