The North Cumbrian Wildlife Sanctuary is saving a growing number of hedgehogs, with some emerging from hibernation shocked by warm weather and unusual hunger.
For more than 30 years, the Knoxwood Wildlife Rescue Trust has helped orphaned and injured animals.
But over the past year, amid recurring headlines about climate change and the environmental crisis, the nearby haven of Wigton has seen increasing numbers of struggling hedgehogs.
“Hedgehogs were the main creature brought to us last year – they were small, dehydrated, often bothered by dogs or picked up by dogs,” said Emma Scott, whose father George founded the reserve.
“The number we get is several hundred. They are quite specialized organisms, they are not well adapted and are very dependent on the weather.
“Ideally, they need a humid, warm summer and then a cool winter while hibernating.
“But since the summer was either ridiculously dry or completely flooded, they struggled to find food.
“There seem to be pockets of them in parts of Cumbria where they do a good job—the little village hedgehogs, where people look for them and help them. But they don’t do a good job in other areas. I think the hedgehogs will depend more and more on the people helping them.”
Emma rejects a suggestion that people should avoid “intervening” to help struggling hedgehogs. “Their environment has changed a lot,” she said.
“And that’s back to us, so we’ve really stepped in and now these little guys are struggling.
“We hope it will help them carry on.”
“There are a whole host of reasons for them to come to us: the usual accidents and incidents as well as the diseases of the hedgehog. They suffer terribly from lungworm, which is picked up by cattle..
“They also get hypothermia really easily because they are basically bald under the feathers.
“They get a good soak and end up chilled.”
Gardeners can sometimes inadvertently destroy a hedgehog’s habitat – for example by scraping rough ground or demolishing a shed. Hedgehogs usually hibernate between October and April.
“But we’ve been getting hedgehogs all December,” Emma said.
“Usually, healthy weight people tend to fall asleep but none of them are in a peak state when they go into hibernation, they wake up and roam around looking for food; then they get stuck in the rain.
“We had a lady who brought one in recently who found it was swimming across her garden because it was flooded and this little guy washed out of his house.”
Another issue in 2021 was the threat of bird flu, which led Knoxwood to suspend reception of infected wild birds.
“It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever made since foot and mouth,” Emma said, noting that this was necessary to protect the reserve’s current population from recovering or disabled birds.
She gave this advice to people wanting to help struggling hedgehogs in Cumbria:
* Check for hedgehogs’ nests before doing any sabotage work in the garden.
Support them with dry cat food and a bowl of water (not milk).
* Provide access points to the garden (such as a fence) so that hedgehogs can roam freely.
* Think about buying or making a home for a hedgehog.