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Hedgehog Problems

Natural Predators

When a hedgehog rolls itself into a spiny ball, there are few predators who will attempt to bother the hedgehog further. However, that is not to say that the hedgehog lives a protected life... far from it. It has been reported recently that the number of wild hedgehogs is on the decrease over the whole of the UK.

It has been noted that the adult hedgehog has a degree of immunity against snake bite poison. This could well be a throwback to earlier times in the UK when poisonous snakes such as the adder were more common.

Aside from snakes, hedgehogs can be the target of badgers, foxes, owls, eagles and polecats. All will kill the odd one or two for food, although none have the hedgehog as it's staple diet. The badger in particular has claws which are long enough to reach past the defences of hedgehogs, particularly young ones.

Unnatural Predators

By far the largest killer of hedgehogs in the UK it seems nowadays, is man and his machinery. Most people will see dead hedgehogs on the roads of the UK and this is very common, particularly during the summer when hedgehogs are more active. The natural instinct of a hedgehog on a road, when approached by a car's headlights, is to curl up. This is no defence, however, against the car following behind the lights... It is estimated that somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 are killed on the UK's roads each year.

Death on the roads, is not the only man-made danger that hedgehogs have to negotiate. Falling into cattle grids, pesticides - including slug pellets, mowers and strimmers, litter for the hedgehog to get stuck in (especially tin cans) and the reduction of the natural habitat are also contributors to the decline of the hedgehog.

With the increase in farm sizes over the last 50 years and the increase in urban building, the countryside hedgerows have decreased. With this decrease, the habitat and food supply of the hedgehog slowly decreases.

It was also legal, up until they were protected in 1981, to cull hedgehogs if they were becoming a pest. Indeed, back in the 16th century, hedgehogs were considered vermin and were hunted. Later, in the earlier part of the 20th century, game reserves were killing 10,000 hedgehogs annually in an effort to protect game birds and their eggs. This continued up into the 1960s at least. Although hedgehogs do eat eggs and small birds on occasion, the damage done to the bird life by the hedgehog was small compared to that done by foxes, crows and wild dogs and cats. During the first half of the century, one large estate in East Anglia killed around 20,000 hedgehogs.

Other Problems

The hedgehog also suffers from parasites. Mainly a type of flea, Archaeopsylla erinacei. This flea only lives on the hedgehog, however, and will rarely move to a dog or cat and especially not to humans. Fleas can be killed off with doses of flea powder.
[ Thanks to Jayne who says the following about fleas:
I run a Wildlife Rescue in Essex and was pleased to see that someone has written an informed section on hedgehogs.My only problem with what you have written is that "hedgehog fleas can be treated with flea powder". Most flea powders kill hedgehogs! Unless the fleas are so numerous they are causing the hedgehog serious health problems they should be left alone. If they have to be removed a mild, plant based flea powder should be used sparingly. Pyrethrum is the safest. ]

Ticks, Ixodes hexagonus, also infect hedgehogs and these can be killed off by smothering them in washing up liquid until they drown.

Despite both the above living on the hedgehog's skin and sucking the blood from beneath the skin surface, the hedgehog seems rarely bothered by it's co-inhabitants.

Written by SteveC