Sussex expert on how to keep hedgehogs happy this autumn

Dr Dawn Scott
Dr Dawn Scott

A Sussex mammalian biologist has criticised a media report that people shouldn’t feed hedgehogs before thay hibernate.

On the contrary, Dr Dawn Scott is urging people to feed dwindling numbers of hedgehogs during autumn to help them survive winter.

I would encourage feeding hedgehogs in the autumn and I would also encourage the establishment of wildlife-friendly gardens which promote natural food supplies for the hedgehogs

Dr Scott, Assistant Head of the University of Brighton’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences said: “I feed hedgehogs in the autumn to help them attain body weight before the winter and several animals may need this boost to obtain the body weight sufficient to survive hibernation.

“I would encourage feeding hedgehogs in the autumn and I would also encourage the establishment of wildlife-friendly gardens which promote natural food supplies for the hedgehogs.”

Dr Scott spoke on hedgehogs at last week’s British Science Festival (BSF).

She said one media report, suggesting Dr Scott was asking people to stop feeding hedgehogs during autumn, was misleading.

“I presented data on my findings on the impact of people feeding urban mammals including foxes, badgers and hedgehogs. I mentioned my concerns over the emerging impact of food supplied by householders on animal behaviour and stated more research was needed.

“The point of the BSF is to stimulate discussion and debate, hence I raised the point of ‘do we actually know the impacts of people feeding wildlife and it might not always be beneficial’. As hedgehogs are in such decline we really do need to know the consequences of our actions in terms of long term affects and this urgently needs more research.

“I was concerned that hedgehogs were noted as active throughout December and January last year and that, although this is likely to be climate related, abundant food supply throughout winter in gardens could also be affecting hibernation timing.

“One of the ecological consequences of urban environments for animals is the potentially constant supply of food which could affect natural seasonal behaviour. Food reduction as well as temperature is a trigger for hibernating animals and so abundant food could potentially affect this trigger. Anthropogenic feeding and how it can disrupt hibernation patterns has been shown in some other species.

“I said I had no direct data on this, it was a point for discussion and raised as an area that needs to be researched in future. I linked this point with the emerging feeding habits of people towards other urban animals and said we need to look carefully at how, what and when we feed wildlife to maximise its benefit and reduce any potential detrimental effects.”

Hedgehogs are reportedly declining by about five per cent a year due to a variety of reasons including attacks by dogs, being hit be road vehicles and loss of habitat.