Hedgehog

Hedgehog - Erinaceus europaeus


Hedgehogs are easily recognisable due to their small size (about 25cm long) and their distinctive sharp spines. They are nocturnal animals and therefore if you see one during the day this may be a sign of illness. They are omnivores who eat insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, slugs and will also feed on fungi and fruits. As they consume a number of plant pests, hedgehogs are beneficial to gardeners and farmers.

It is not known when the hedgehog arrived in Ireland. It is believed that it was probably introduced by humans, possible as a source of food. It can now be found throughout the country. As landscape conditions have changed over the years, they have moved from their preferred habitat (woodlands and open grasslands) to hedgerows and residential gardens. During colder months (October – March) they will hibernate in nests of grass, leaves and dried vegetation. Although some will hibernate for the entire period, most will wake during milder weather to forage and change nest.

Although there is no reliable data on hedgehog abundance in Ireland, there is strong anecdotal evidence suggesting a similar population trend to that occurring in Great Britain, where a study showed a decline in hedgehog numbers over the past 50 years. This decline correlates strongly with changing and increasingly intensive land use over that period.

Hedgehogs have few natural predators in Ireland, however, accidental road deaths account for a large portion of hedgehog deaths, especially at night while they are foraging. A study into the age of hedgehog deaths in Ireland found that 54% of hedgehogs, killed on roads, were less than one year old.


Hedgehog Crimes

The Hedgehog is protected by law in the Republic of Ireland under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 and is listed in the Bern Convention (Appendix III) as a species requiring protection.

Unless authorised to do so under a valid licence/permission granted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 it is unlawful to:-

  • Hunt, kill or injure a hedgehog
  • Wilfully interfere with or destroy the breeding or resting place of a hedgehog
  • Be in possession of a hedgehog, whether alive or dead, or any part, product or derivative thereof other than one lawfully taken pursuant to the Wildlife Acts
  • Sell, keep or offer for sale, or engage in taxidermy in respect of a hedgehog or any parts, products or derivative thereof, other than by a licensed wildlife dealer with a lawfully acquired specimen

ACCIDENTAL TRAPPINGS

Hedgehogs will come to our gardens to forage for food, so care should be taken for their safety when they visit. They can often drown in garden ponds where the design prevents them from climbing back out of. They are vulnerable to pesticide use in gardens. They can get entangled in tennis and goalpost nets. Garden strimmers can inflect terrible injuries on hedgehogs. They may accidentally become trapped in everyday household objects, such as, tin cans, yoghurt pots, and plastic can holders. This can lead to a slow and painful death. It is therefore important to dispose of household waste correctly. They often fall victim to cattle grids, but fitting a ramp allows a trapped hedgehog to scramble free.

KEEPING HEDGEHOGS

Aside from accidental trappings some hedgehogs are trapped to be kept as pets. As hedgehogs are protected by Irish law, they may not be kept captive and to do so is a crime. Hedgehogs can however take up residence in our gardens if they find the habitat to their liking. Hedge bottoms provide food and cover for then and should not be raked out too often. The odd pile of leaves in a secluded corner or behind the garden shed can be ideal for nesting and hibernating sites.

INJURED HEDGEHOGS

Sick or injured hedgehog may be kept captive for a period of recuperation once granted a licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. If you need to handle a hedgehog for any reason, they should always be handled with gloves.


Recording evidence at the Crime Scene

Assessing whether a criminal offence has taken place may not always be straight forward and other possibilities such as natural deaths, predation and legal hunting should be considered.

If you come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird or object that may be related to a wildlife crime, every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.


Reporting a hedgehog crime

To report suspected illegal hedgehog activity contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service
Tel: 01-888 3242 or LoCall 1890 383 000

For a pdf of contact numbers for your local NPWS Conservation Ranger click HERE

If you can’t reach NPWS personnel call An Garda Síochána:

If the crime is in progress or about to happen, or if the offender is still at the scene or has just left call 999 or 112

If the event is finished then either call your local Garda Station (Garda Stations Directory) or the Garda Confidential Telephone Number 1800 666 111

[Although it will assist the NPWS and Gardaí if you provide as much information as possible, you do not have to give your name if you ring to report an incident.]

If the hedgehog is alive and is injured, also call a wildlife rehabilitator/vet from the contacts page of Irish Wildlife Matters