Hedgehog Soft Release Program
As you can see from our website, we rescue all native wildlife but by far the animal we see the most of is the hedgehog. Baby hedgehogs can arrive throughout the year; we rehabilitate them here in pre-release runs and then move them - as babies and adults - to locations where we work with home owners to soft release hedgehogs in their gardens.
Hedgehogs are the UKs only spiny mammal; there are 17 species throughout the world and all have in common the spines. They're nocturnal, although they can be seen out in the daytime during pregnancy when they are building nests and prior to hibernation. They have between 5,000-7,000 spines covering their body and through a drawstring, muscular action, they can protect themselves from most predators.
They are born spineless, but within 24 hours white spines will appear and within 3 weeks they are fully covered in soft spines which harden over the following few weeks.
During hibernation, their heartbeat slows down to 20 beats a minute allowing them to slowly use up fat reserves that they have built up. In hot climates, hedgehogs also sleep for long periods, this is called aestivation. They do not hibernate to avoid the cold - most hedgehogs can withstand quite severe temperatures - they hibernate because their food sources disappear. In areas where people feed regularly in the garden, we often see the hedgehogs stay awake during the winter period.
Historically, hedgehogs have lived happily and successfully within dense hedges which used to cover much of the UK. With smaller gardens and more wooden fence panels, the populations have become segregated. Not only does this affect their ability to roam and feed, it also affects their ability to provide safe nest sites to have their young in. Fallen trees and dense piles of wood make safe nesting sites for hedgehogs to crawl in amongst and be safe from predation. Compost heaps are also ideal places for hedgehogs to feed and have their young. Over the last 10 years, we have seen many factors come into play that have caused the demise of a once very common mammal. The decline is so drastic that it is up to all of us to ensure that this mammal remains in the UK. Providing nesting sites is essential; leaving wood piles, fallen trees and dense hedges, along with man-made hedgehog houses are still the best ways to ensure they have a choice of safe locations.
Prior to being involved with releasing hedgehogs, we would ask that you check that your garden is safe from hedgehog hazards.
Swimming pools & ponds need to have access and egress suitable for hedgehogs. Sloping sides, chicken wire, bricks & pebbles can all be used to create a way for them to be able to climb out. They are strong swimmers, but slippery, straight sides and low water levels will prevent them from being able to get out.
Slug pellets and pesticides poison the slugs and insects which hedgehogs may go on to eat and therefore it will enter the food chain relatively quickly. Hedgehogs, slow worms and frogs all eat slugs - encouraging wildlife to eat the insects in your garden is a far better long term solution to using slug pellets which will leave your gardens devoid of not only slugs but predators too. There are many other solutions including beer traps and copper rings.
Anti freeze is clear and sweet tasting and if it is left unguarded, hedgehogs and other mammals may drink it. We see this at the rescue and the process is very hard to reverse.
Intensive farming has seen heavy machinery, increased sizes of fields and the removal of hedges. Field margins have been reduced and pesticides are used to produce stronger crops. The removal of hedges has once again put hedgehogs at a greater risk of predation. In 2015, a bird survey showed that 52% of farmland birds had disappeared from farms, showing the further impact of intensive farming.
Lawn mowers, strimmers and garden tools have an impact on hedgehogs. Sometimes they lay in borders & long grass unguarded so please check before using any garden machinery.
Garden netting can be a potential problem for hedgehogs so please make sure it is secure and not hanging freely. If possible, leave an 8 inch gap to allow hedgehogs to pass safely underneath. If you find a hedgehog tangled in netting then call a vet or local wildlife rescue as complications can occur once the netting has been removed.
The modern fortresses we create in our garden for seclusion and privacy have a detrimental affect on our hedgehogs. They can roam around 2km every night and need several gardens to forage in. Fencing can cause local extinction as the hedgehog population becomes isolated. By providing a simple hole in your fence, you can create access into other gardens.
If you have bonfires in November - or throughout the year - please check before you set anything on fire as hedgehogs will nest in these and, in winter months, will hibernate there.
Cats and dogs can live happily in your garden. If your dog consistently barks during the late evening, it may be helpful to put him on a lead when you take him out last thing at night until he gets used to the hedgehogs.
On average about 200,000 hedgehogs are killed on roads. Unfortunately, roads are a part of our landscape and are slowly increasing - there is little we can do to prevent hedgehogs crossing roads. They usually only begin to hear vehicles once they are in a range of about 8 metres, so it is inevitable that some will not survive.
The Soft Release Procedure
If an adult hedgehog arrives with us with a relatively simple injury and is healthy in other ways, we release them back to the area they came from and soft release isn't always used for this process. On all other occasions, we only use soft release. We have found this to be successful and to greatly benefit the hedgehogs and to increase the chances of hedgehog populations thriving.
Our soft release programmes are quite strict; over the last 30 years we think we have come up with a solution that benefits the hedgehogs and puts their well being first. Not all locations and gardens are suitable for soft release. You would need to contact us to arrange a site visit prior to an installation so that any issues can be resolved at this stage. You will have to attend one of our release courses and sign a release contract with us to follow guidelines and rules. Details of release courses here
The house that you create for the hedgehog needs to be completely dry inside and free of damp. This can be achieved in many ways - if you have an existing house, we can advise you how to modify it to achieve the standards needed. You need to ensure the bottom is slightly off the ground to prevent the damp coming up through the floor. The roof needs to be waterproof and weatherproof.
We create our own heavy metal hedgehog houses but it is very easy to modify existing houses that you may have. Very few of the ones you can buy on the high street are suitable, so please contact us before you make any purchases. Please make sure you have attended our course and spoken to our hedgehog officer about this.
The house must not be disturbed once the hedgehogs have started to use it. They must feel completely safe in their new surroundings if they are going to thrive.
Soft release runs need to be a minimum of 6ft x 6ft and 6ft high. It is incredibly important that human contact is kept to a minimum. The mesh needs to be 1inch mesh or smaller - the floor also needs to be covered in mesh.
The hedgehog house is placed at the back of the run, it must be protected from both weather extremes. A small access for the hedgehog to get in and out needs to be put in at this stage, but obviously made secure. In order to protect it against the elements, we recommend using reed screening for the roof or growing climbing plants.
Inside the run you will need a large bowl, probably 2ft in diameter, that has pebbles inside and water. Flower pot trays with low lips are the most successful and hardiest ones to use. This will ensure that in hot weather, the water will not totally dry up during the day.
We use dry food in the runs as it smells less and attracts less interest from other wildlife. Feeding must always be done during the late evening. Once they have access out of the run, we recommend you feed in other areas in the garden and use a varied diet. Please do not over feed - we know that hedgehogs prefer their natural diet and they will forage for food even when being fed.
Once the run has been situated, we will ask you to soft release 2 hedgehogs. Once they are settled in your run they will be given access to the small access door and will slowly, over a period of time, relocate to the surrounding areas. You will need to purchase a trap camera to monitor the frequency of visits to the run. We have had hedgehogs remain in the run for over a year and have several litters even though they are free to go. The success of the soft release programme is based on the hedgehogs being safe.
Once your hedgehogs have fully vacated the run, we would look at releasing another 2 hedgehogs and going through the same process again.
Whilst some people may be concerned at how complicated this procedure is, we must remind you that the goal is to release these hedgehogs successfully and the hedgehog must come first. We have found this to be the most successful way - we soft release all our wildlife and we have a high success rate.