Wildlife sanctuaries are being inundated with starving baby hedgehogs after recent cold weather took its toll on already declining populations. A combination of a mild autumn followed by snow has left juvenile hedgehogs particularly vulnerable, wildlife experts say.
They are now urging the public to report any young animals they see foraging for food during the day. The animals are normally nocturnal.
Tiggywinkles, the Wildlife Hospital Trust sanctuary near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, said it had taken in more than 120 young hedgehogs in the past seven days. 'They are coming in thick and fast. The cold snap really hit them,' said Les Stocker, who runs the sanctuary. 'Usually by about Christmas we will be looking after 500, but we have got 500 already and the numbers are rising.' Vale Wildlife, a treatment and rehabilitation centre in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, has launched an emergency appeal for tins of cat and dog food to help feed the 100 young hedgehogs brought in to the centre so far.
Folly Wildlife Rescue at Eridge Green, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, has reported 'unusually high' numbers of the animals.
'We have got about 90 and they are coming in smaller and smaller,' said Annette Risley.
Experts believe that wetter summers and warmer autumns are encouraging hedgehogs to produce second litters later in the year. But the baby hedgehogs then struggle during cold spells and can find it difficult to get enough food to put on the weight that is vital to their hibernation.
'It's a downward spiral. They are expending energy looking for food, and then they start coming out during the day,' said Risley. 'They can't keep warm enough and are susceptible to pneumonia, gut bacteria and, of course, starvation.'
People who may be worried about the condition of hedgehogs spotted in their gardens are encouraged to weigh them first to check if they are starving. If they weigh less than 300 grams, they need to be taken to a wildlife sanctuary.