THE mild weather so far this winter has meant many hedgehogs are still being found out and about, writes Julien Crowther of the Brimscombe-based Help a Hedgehog Hospital.

This is not necessarily a good thing though as there is little natural food for them and most are underweight, hungry and weakened with parasitical worms.

We currently have 175 hogs in care for the winter and many have not yet reached a safe weight for hibernation.

During hibernation, the hedgehog's metabolism becomes very slow – body temperature drops from the normal 35C to 10C or less, heart rate decreases from approximately 190 beats per minute to a faint 20 per minute, and they will breathe only once every few minutes.

During milder periods, they may wake up for a day or two, but this will reduce their reserves of fat even further.

Small hedgehogs weighing less than 500g have little chance of surviving hibernation and will simply not wake up in the spring.

You may have recently seen Winterwatch which featured a research project with a hedgehog rescue where tracking devices were fitted onto hedgehogs which were then released prior to hibernation.

This is unlike most rescues, including ourselves, which keep the hogs safe until the spring.

Of course, by tracking and monitoring their progress they will be able to see if this strategy works.

The benefit of not keeping the hogs caged longer than necessary must be balanced against the uncertainty of not knowing how an untracked hog would survive.

We have addressed that problem with our secure pre-release areas where hogs that are ready for hibernation can be kept for the winter months without being confined to cages.

Over the last five years, we have collected a lot of data on rescues and releases in Gloucestershire – our treasurer and data cruncher, Maureen, has prepared this in map form, which will be going on display at the Stroud Valleys Project shop.

We hope that this will show how populations have become fragmented with some becoming isolated.

Some gaps are due to loss of suitable habitat and food supplies, but there are clusters locally with numbers increasing which can only be good for an animal in such serious decline.

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