Leyland Hedgehog Rescue needs five to six people to help care for 20 vulnerable hoglets weighing less than 800g until they are well enough to be released back into the wild around April.
Mary Swindlehurst, who runs the sanctuary, says she is overrun with poorly critters struggling to survive the winter because of food shortages. The animal lover is being forced to keep several larger ones in plastic boxes due to insufficient space for cages, with more rescues occasionally arriving.
Mary, who cares for around 20 hogs at the sanctuary, said: “We could do with people taking some from the rescue because they are blocking up intensive care beds. That would help tremendously.”
Mary has placed 10 other hogs with a friend while current fosterers have around 40 between them. But cases of neglect have made picking volunteers a difficult task.
She said: “I’m usually extremely careful. A couple came back in dirty boxes with no bedding as [the volunteers] lost interest and hadn’t looked after them properly. I’ve even known of people keeping them in a bath, which is not safe. It’s heart-breaking.”
She also says some volunteers have become attached to the animals and have been reluctant to give them back when they are ready to be released into the wild.
“The trouble is a lot of people think once they get them as a fosterer, they think they can keep them as a pet. One or two [of the hogs] have been difficult to get back. One person desperately didn’t want to let them go and thought it was their pet, but it is against the law to keep them. It usually takes a week to persuade them to give them back or I have to get in touch with the wildlife authorities.
"I just want to find the right person to take them. They have to understand hedgehogs are not pets to keep.”
Have a clean, dry wooden hutch approximately 4ft long with a separate sleeping compartment (this must be large enough to fit the rescue’s insulated sleeping/release boxes) in a garage or shed with a window for daylight;
At least three non-tip bowls e.g. tapas dishes;
Lots of newspapers for lining the cages and for bedding;
Hay or straw to supplement bedding;
Mashed dog/cat food;
Kitten biscuits/kibble - mixed meaty varieties;
A box of gloves for handling the hogs and cleaning up their faeces.
Fosterers must also:
Clean the cage daily and the nest box when necessary;
Sign and adhere to a list of instructions before the hedgehog is fostered;
Bring the hedgehog back for release when asked;
Be available at all times and forgo holidays while the hog is in their care, unless someone reliable is available to take over daily duties.
If you are interested in becoming a fosterer, please call Mary on 07732 245 844.
What impact has global warming had on hedgehogs' plight?
Many hedgehogs rely on people feeding them in their gardens during winter as global warming forces them out of hibernation, says Mary.
Although normally nocturnal animals, hoglets are being forced to hunt during the day due to food and water shortages - a sign they are starved. Mary urges people to contact her if they see a hedgehog of any size out and about in daylight hours.
Commenting on the impact of warmer winters on the animal’s ability to hibernate effectively, she added: “If temperatures stay around 5 degrees, they normally go to sleep around October or November and wake up in March or April.
"But some are coming out of hibernation early for spring and are really poorly. They’re small and starved. The ones born in autumn can’t hibernate and find enough food. If the ground is hard, they can’t dig for worms. There’s a myth going round that you shouldn’t put food out because it stops them hibernating. That's absolute rubbish. If you put food out, you’re saving them and helping them to adapt. Global warming is not going away.”
But it is not only small hedgehogs that are at risk during winter – Mary says larger ones seen out in daylight are likely to be ill with lungworm.
"We see a lot of lungworm, which can be treated, but if people keep hold of them for a couple of days, they don’t stand a chance,” she added, urging people to contact her for support.
Rather than having one long sleep, the creatures wake frequently during hibernation and may move nests if their current one is too cold and no longer suitable. Mary says they rely on people putting food out to help them survive during these temporary stirrings.