Here are Leyland Hedgehog Rescue's 7 tips for helping to protect hedgehogs in the wild

They're the harmless little critters that eat up all the unwanted bugs and grubs in our gardens.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Monday, 16th December 2019, 2:42 pm
British hedgehogs are under threat due to climate change, use of pesticides and loss of habitat, according to a South Ribbleformer nurse who rescues them.

Despite this, humans have put British hedgehogs at risk, according to a South Ribble rescuer.

Now Mary Swindlehurst, who runs Leyland Hedgehog Rescue with the daily help of Gill Whittaker, is busting myths about the spiky species and encouraging people to help them survive in the wild.

The 70-year-old said: "It's heartbreaking as they're such harmless creatures. We've made the planet really uncomfortable for them. Farming has had to change to meet our demands for food. Hedges are ripped up, fields sprayed with insecticide and a barren wasteland remains as far as hedgehogs are concerned.

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"What we're doing to the planet is very sad. The fact they're dying out is an example of the damage we're doing. It's a dramatic drop."

Having been driven from the wild to urban areas because of threats like climate change, pesticides and loss of habitat, numbers have plummeted in the UK by about 50% since 2000.

And global warming is forcing many females to have a litter in August and September, in addition to the one in spring, the usual mating season, Mary added.

"Summer is the biggest danger to them because of flies and late pregnancies. The little ones are not going to make it through winter. They often last about three weeks in the wild and are writhing in maggots by then. It's just disgusting. They all need rescuing and then most can be saved," she said.

Mary Swindlehurst runs Leyland Hedgehog Rescue, which provides first aid and rehabilitation to sick hedgehogs.

As the species is nocturnal, spotting one out in daylight is a sign that something is wrong. If it is injured, Mary advises taking it straight to the vets. But if it has no visible injuries, then it is likely to be sick and should be taken to a rescue centre immediately, especially as a parasite inside them starts to multiply when they become stressed.

Mary, a former nurse at Royal Preston Hospital, set up the Leyland rescue centre after retiring from her Penwortham podiatry business three years ago. She provides first aid and rehabilitation to her little patients and is currently caring for around 30. After being nursed back to health, they will go on to a fosterer who will help them build their strength and body mass before being released back into the wild.

But people should not care for them in their own homes or keep them as pets, Mary warns, because it will make them more vulnerable to predators or humans with cruel intentions.

"We don't want them to become tame because they're not pets and it's against the law to keep them in a cage or trapped in the garden if they're not having urgent care. But you can help them outside the home," she said.

Hoglets born in August and September are unlikely to survive the winter in the wild without the support of a rescue centre, says Mary.

Gardens can be a dangerous place to the many that now seek refuge under sheds, decking, in compost heaps and under shrubs due to a lack of awareness about how to care for hogs, according to Mary.

"Dangers include netting. We've just had to put one to sleep that was caught in some. It was in a horrible state as one of its legs was broken and the net had cut into its neck.

"And people sometimes use a strimmer without checking hedges for animals so some have had their legs cut off," she said.

Commenting on the many wives' tales about them, the rescuer added: "Some people think if you feed them then they won't hibernate but that's absolute rubbish. They can cope with the cold but not with a lack of food.

Mary examining a sick hedgehog's faeces under a microscope to help determine its illness.

"We used to have little brooks around but now there's often not enough water for miles around. Many hogs are really dehydrated in summer and what they need are puddles, brooks, little streams and ponds.

"Some people also think they can catch hedgehogs' fleas but they aren't designed to live on dogs, cats or humans. Spraying hogs with cat or dog flea products can kill them."

Animal lovers can also help the critters by supporting rescues like the one in Leyland. Donations helping to cover medical care for injured hedgehogs can be made to Chorley Vets in Market Street, which has offered free operations to Mary's inpatients.

Alternatively, donations can be made by contacting the rescue on its Facebook page. Funds will help to pay for items like cages, heat pads, needles and medication. Food, fleeces and ripped up newspapers are also welcome.

"They're our own little dinosaurs but they're fading without us really noticing," Mary added.

"If we carry on, there won't be any left for our grandchildren."

The hedgehogs are treated with medication until they are well until to go to a fosterer.

Mary is unable to accommodate any more hogs herself but they can be reported to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801.

Mary weighs them regularly to ensure they're gaining a healthy body mass.
People can help hedgehogs survive in the wild by feeding them kitten biscuits, Mary advises.
A hedgehog receiving treatment at the Leyland rescue centre.
Sick hedgehogs spotted out during the day should be wrapped up in a towel or jumper to keep them warm and taken immediately to a rescue centre, Mary says.