Record- breaking flood of hedgehogs into RSPCA rescue centres this autumn

Hedgehog admissions into the RSPCA are breaking records this year, with numbers showing a five-year high for January to October.

New data from the RSPCA reveals that admissions of hedgehogs into the animal charity’s specialist wildlife centres are up by 22% already this year.

Up until the end of last month (October 2019), more than 2000 hedgehogs (2123) were admitted, compared with 1739 for the same period in 2018.

Admissions for this September and October are the highest they have been for the last five years. Last month, an average of twelve hedgehogs were admitted into the RSPCA’ specialist centres every day – equivalent to one every two hours. There have already been more than 200 admissions this month so far (November).

RSPCA scientific officer Evie Button says: “It’s going to be a difficult year for hedgehogs. As we head towards the hibernation period, we’re seeing a surge in hedgehogs being brought to our centres by concerned members of the public and the RSPCA own officers. We could be in for a record-breaking year.

“Whilst it’s impossible to know exactly why we are seeing so many more hedgehogs this year, some potential causes could be if they’re having trouble finding food this year, changes in weather that affected the timing of the breeding season, or even that people are often more aware and concerned about hedgehogs so are reporting them to us more often.”

Every autumn, in the run-up to hedgehog hibernation, the animal charity sees a flood of these iconic wild animals brought into its centres.

Hedgehogs are by far the most common species admitted to RSPCA wildlife centres across October and November and there are currently a total of 461 being cared for at East Winch, Norfolk (224), West Hatch, Somerset (128), Stapeley Grange, Cheshire (92) and Mallydams Wood, East Sussex (17).

But it’s not easy to tell if a hedgehog is in trouble, so from time to time, perfectly healthy hedgehogs are brought into wildlife centres by well-meaning members of the public.

To help animal lovers make a more informed decision, the RSPCA has introduced simple guidance based on fruit sizes to help the public gauge whether a hedgehog is underweight and needs specialist care (if the hedgehog is mango or apple-sized) or big enough to survive hibernation (pineapple-sized).

Evie continued: “It’s important to ensure that our scarce resources are targeted at the animals most in need, but it can be quite tricky to tell whether a hedgehog really needs help or not. Using fruit sizes as a guide is a usual way of working out whether the animal is healthy or in trouble.

“If the hedgehog is mango-sized or even smaller, it needs to be taken to a rescue centre. At this size, the hedgehog will probably weigh less than 450g and is unlikely to survive the winter without expert care. But if it’s the size of a pineapple, there’s no need to worry. The hedgehog will have reached a very healthy weight and can be left in peace to carry on with its preparations for hibernation.”

Hedgehogs need considerable fat reserves to get them through the winter. As autumn turns to winter, prey such as insects become much more scarce, and that can prevent young hedgehogs reaching an appropriate weight of 500g or more so they can hibernate safely.

While September sees the tail end of the orphaned hedgehog admissions, by October, the balance tips towards those that are found out during the day looking for food or that are starving.

These animals may also be orphans, which are now struggling as they were not able to put on as much weight without their mother’s help. However, you may also see hedgehogs out and about during winter when the weather is mild, as they will often walk up during hibernation to forage for food or move their nest sites.

Anyone with concerns about a wild animal’s welfare can contact the RSPCA advice line on 0300 123 4999.

For more information about how to help hedgehogs in your garden you can visit the RSPCA’s website – www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/inthewild/gardenhedgehogs.