The current cold spell – one of the longest on record – is particularly affecting creatures that are already struggling to survive the loss of their habitats and changes in climate.
Examples include the hedgehog, which has already suffered a devastating loss of numbers over the past three decades and is now badly affected by the cold weather.
Wild animals can deal with harsh weather, experts acknowledge, but the length of the current cold spell is unprecedented, with forecasters warning that temperatures are unlikely to return to their average level until the end of April. For hedgehogs, the prolonged cold weather has had a particularly severe impact. Many animals that went into hibernation in October or November last year are still sleeping. The weather is not yet warm enough to wake them all up although there are the odd ones around. Usually we at Wormit Hedgehog Care Centre would expect to have anything up to 20 brought into care by now and others reported as being up and about, this year we have not had any brought in and only 5 calls about sightings.
The main problem is that the longer a hedgehog remained asleep, the weaker it gets and the less energy it has to restore itself to wakefulness. A lot depends just how healthy and well-fed an animal was when it went into hibernation but in general, the longer the cold weather lasts, the greater the number of animals that will not wake up at all. The problems facing those hedgehogs that have already woken up from hibernation are no better as they are having a hard time finding any food and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society getting increasing numbers of reports down South of animals appearing in gardens in daytime desperate for something to eat. In the 1980s, there were estimated to be around 30m hedgehogs in the UK. Today, there are fewer than a million, thanks to major erosion of the animals’ habitats. The impact of this year’s long winter and the prospect of continued grim conditions only worsen prospects for this once ubiquitous mammal.
The Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends leaving plentiful water supplies and also food, either meaty cat or dog meals or specialist hedgehog food.
We have cared for 33 over the winter with 10 in the outside enclosure and all survived. Some are way over 1k in weight after going through 10k of dried mealworms in about 4 weeks. The outside ones only started to come out of hibernation around the end of March with the first few released on Saturday past.