THERE are probably stranger ways to while away the winter but it’s difficult to think of any...
Janet Mason is to spend the next six months trying to keep hedgehogs awake.
Not because she’s mean or weird but because it’s the only way they will survive until spring.
Janet is a hedgehog lover and part of a programme to boost the numbers of the spiny garden favourite in Barnsley in particular after years of decline - even if it means shipping them in from Hull and Manchester.
It is estimated that the hedgehog population of Britain has fallen from 14 million to one million in the past 10 years but Janet and other nature lovers are determined to re-build the population.
And that means that the latest generation of hedgehogs can’t be allowed to hibernate - or they will die
Janet, of Monk Bretton, Barnsley, explains: “Hedgehogs usually mate in April and give birth in May but climate change has brought us cooler and wetter Augusts in recent years and many hedgehogs are having a second brood later in the year because the cool, damp weather tells them it’s spring.”
“That second litter doesn’t have time to get enough food before it’s time to hibernate and if they go to sleep for the winter weighing any less than 600 grammes they will die because they don’t have enough fat stored to live off until April and the end of hibernation.
“They just go to sleep and don’t wake up again.”
So how does one stop a hedgehog from hibernating?
“We keep them really warm and keep feeding them and they usually don’t start to hibernate,” adds Janet, originally from Bolton, Lancashire.
“They still go to sleep at night but if the temperature doesn’t drop around them they will wake up again in the morning.”
Janet and other volunteers have released 146 hedgehogs back into the wild over the summer - as part of Barnsley bio-diversity initiative which is also reintroducing barn owls, otters and kestrels - and she reckons 90 per cent of them have survived so far.
So why should we care about hedgehogs anyway?
“Hedgehogs have been around since the dinosaur age and they are a vital part of the life cycle of the planet,” said Janet.
“Barnsley council’s parks department are keen to re-introduce wildlife into the town and they were keen to help with hedgehogs as part of that programme.
Unfortunately hedgehogs are stepping on the claws of another British favourite, and one making a big comeback in numbers, the badger.
“Badgers have turned on hedgehogs in the past 100 years because they are a rival for dwindling food resources as agricultural methods have changed,” said Janet.
“The badger is one of the few creatures that can get to the underbelly of a hedgehog with its claws.
“Badgers will eat hedgehogs now.”
In the meantime Janet is shipping in hedgehogs from Sheffield, Hull and Manchester to keep up the Barnsley population.
“All the hedgehogs that have been released in Barnsley are ones that have been brought in because they have been ill or have lost their mothers in this or other areas like Hull and Manchester.
“They are rehabilitated and then go back to the wild so we can get the size of our population back up.”
CHECK your bonfire, save a hedgehog.
That’s the message from Janet Mason to all animal lovers.
Before getting young hedgehogs through the winter Janet first has to get them through the perils of Bonfire Night - and she wants YOUR help.
“Firstly I would ask anyone who’s having a bonfire of their own to actually move it on the day of the fire so that any hedgehogs that may have found somewhere to sleep among the firewood will be able to get away,” says hedgehog rescuer Janet.
“If that’s not possible can people please go round their bonfires with a torch and check between the pieces of wood before they light the fire that a hedgehog has not gone in there thinking it was somewhere safe to lie.
“If you want to feed a hedgehog in your garden put out some water and some good quality cat or dog food or some cheese and peanuts. They also have a sweet tooth so a biscuit goes down well but DON’T give them milk, they can’t digest it properly and it’s not good for them.
“If you’re worried about attracting rats you can cover the food up with something and the hedgehogs will sniff it out whereas other animals won’t bother.”