My experience of fostering hedgehogs

My experience of fostering hedgehogs

Hedgehog. Photo Gillian Day

Tanya St. Pierre is Cumbria Wildlife Trusts’s ‘Planting for Pollinators’ Project Manager and fosters hedgehogs in her spare time.


What is there not to love about hedgehogs? Not only are they undeniably cute, a prickly ball of spikes with the most endearing of faces peeking out, they also have a very amiable and gentle nature. Similar to bumblebees, which are also a firm favourite of mine, they quietly – on the whole – go about their travels, into our gardens or around our villages, towns and cities, almost oblivious to our presence, quietly minding their own business.

Getting started

The more you learn, the more fascinated you become, and about ten years ago I was lucky enough to venture down the road of fostering hedgehogs. I had already registered with Hedgehog Preservation Society, the leading hedgehog charity in the UK, and had attended one of their ‘Hedgehog First Aid and Rehabilitation’ courses. Avidly poring over books such as ‘A Prickly Affair’ by Hugh Warwick, ‘Hedgehogs’ by Pat Morris, and ‘Hedgehog Rehabilitation’ by Kay Bullen, my holy grail had begun and I was starting to get obsessed!

However, I still had so much to learn. Picking up my first hedgehogs from the rescue centre, I learnt how I needed to weigh the hedgehogs every week, use hay not straw as bedding, as they could readily get tangled in straw, and feed them cat or dog food but not the fish varieties, as this can cause severe stomach upset. Similarly mealworms are bad for hedgehogs, and milk and bread are an absolute no-no. I also invested in individual rabbit hutches, with a separate sleeping compartment, being solitary creatures, they don’t on the whole take kindly to sharing their personal space!

Weighing a hedgehog. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Weighing a hedgehog. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Their own personalities

Very quickly, I got to know the hedgehogs I fostered. Just like humans, they each had their own personalities and eccentricities. Ranging from the very shy to the very bold, some of the hedgehogs were very clean and tidy, not spilling their food bowls, others very quickly set up a latrine system and had a very orderly living arrangement, and then there was Lionel! Named after Lionel Messi, the footballer, he certainly lived up to his name. Messi by name messy by nature! Every morning when I went to clean his cage, it looked like a tornado had passed through, water and food bowls upended, bedding scattered to the four winds, a hutch of complete carnage, and there in amongst it all, the sweetest and most good natured hedgehog I had ever handled.

Cleaning the cages daily, and ensuring the hogs have the appropriate care depending on their size and needs, means that fostering is a full time commitment. You can’t simply vanish for a weekend away, or Christmas holidays. Delores, one of the hedgehogs I fostered for example, decided not to hibernate until 29 December. Even then you never know when a hedgehog might suddenly wake up and want a quick snack. So keeping fresh water and food topped up throughout is very important, as well ensuring that you have the appropriate space and conditions to keep them.

Delores and Alfred. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Delores and Alfred. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Release day

One of the highlights of the fostering year is release day. Generally, as foster hedgehogs are mostly overwintered, this is spring time. With warmer days, blue tits are starting to build their nests, which is a sure sign that insects are on the wing, and food such as caterpillars and beetles are now available and back on the menu. Soft release is a method whereby hedgehogs are moved to a pen at a carefully selected release site, here they can continue to be fed and housed in a safe location, whilst slowly being introduced to their new surroundings. Over time – generally two weeks, the door is left open, so that the hedgehog can come and go as it pleases, safe in the knowledge that it has a nest box and food to return too, if needed. In my experience most hedgehogs take a week or so to find a new nest site but continue to come back and feed on and off throughout the year. Having a night camera helps me to capture their movements, and whilst it’s a delight to see the hedgehogs return, its makes me even happier to know that they are now back in the wilds, the place where they truly belong.

Night camera shows hedgehogs come and go. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Night camera shows hedgehogs come and go. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Why foster?

So I guess this begs the question, why do we need to foster hedgehogs at all? One of the many challenges facing rescue centres is overwintering hedgehogs, many are too small or sick, or just aren’t ready to be released, as the weather is too bad this time of year. Cold springs often push hedgehogs to have litters late on into the year, and without help, many of the ‘autumn juveniles’ are too small and underweight. Ideally 600g and above is the best weight for any hedgehog to overwinter, any less and chances of survival dramatically decrease. Other hedgehogs often need to be rehomed after being found on building sites or other unsuitable locations, whilst others sustain a wide array of injuries – everything from lawn mower and strimmer injuries to road accidents, or quite simply they have a big burden of worms or parasites, and need treatment and time to recover. Carers are then needed to take and look after pre-release hedgehogs for the winter period.

Hedgehog decline

In recent times, hedgehogs have definitely had the odds stacked against them. Their numbers have plummeted by more than 90 per cent within the last 50 years, and fewer than a million are thought to be snuffling around the country today. The long list of reasons for the decline include loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation, intensified agricultural practices, inbreeding, road traffic accidents, lack of biodiversity and suitable nest sites in residential gardens, badger predation, and rodenticide and molluscicide poisoning. Increasingly many rescues centres are now citing dog bites as a cause of hedgehog injury and mortality.

Wearing gloves to handle hedgehogs is a good idea. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Wearing gloves to handle hedgehogs is a good idea. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Research on fostering hedgehogs

Published in May 2021, research by Sophie Lund Rasmussen et al., research on ‘Hedgehog stress, personality and survival rates’ suggests that survival rates between released rehabilitated hedgehogs and wild juvenile hedgehogs are found to be no different. This means that it’s worthwhile for carers to raise juveniles, as they appear to have as much success when they are released as wild hedgehogs. However, the research also showed that captivity causes stress to hedgehogs, so periods of captivity should be as short as possible.

Want to foster a hedgehog?

The best thing you can do is decide if you can offer the appropriate care and check that your site is suitable. Information about helping hedgehogs and fostering can be found in the links below:

Hedgehog Bottom Rescue - Fostering (

guide-to-helping-hedgehogs.pdf (

Hedgehog Fact Sheet | Tiggywinkles (

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society - The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (

I would also recommend attending a ‘Hedgehog First Aid and Rehabilitation’ course, more information can be found in the links below:

Courses | Vale Wildlife

Other ways we can help

One of the biggest problems hedgehogs face in towns and villages is fencing and walls, which stop them from roaming safely between gardens. This reduces their foraging opportunities and forces them out on to roads, where they are vulnerable to traffic. Hedgehogs can move about a mile each night to find food and meet other hedgehogs for breeding, by simply placing a hedgehog hole in a fence or wall, we can help them to do this.

What to do if you find an injured hedgehog

  1. Make them safe. Wear gloves or use a towel to gentle pick it up, holding it in both hands around the middle. Put it in a box lined with newspaper, and provide a tea towel or small towel for it to hide under.
  2. Contact a rescue centre as soon as possible. Hedgehogs have a higher rate of survival the quicker they are taken into care. Often hedgehogs have underlying illnesses such as worm burden – or severe dehydration brought on by shock, which needs professional medical care.
  3. Keep them warm. If your hedgehog is very ill or cold, provide a hot water bottle or a drinks bottle filled with warm water, and wrap a towel around it for the hedgehog to snuggle up to.
  4. Food and water. If you have to wait for any period of time before you can the hedgehog to a rescue centre, then offer dog or cat food, plus fresh water in a non-tip bowl.

If you find a small hedgehog during the autumn months and you are unsure as too whether it is too small or not, weigh the hog if you can, if it’s less than 600g it’s unlikely to survive the winter, so either take it to your local rescue centre or call The Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice: 01584 890801

If you see a hedgehog out during the day is it probably injured or sick. Pick the hog up gently using gloves, place it in a box with a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and take it to your local animal rescue centre. However, hedgehogs nursing young may venture out to feed during the day, good advice can be found here, if you are unsure: Hedgehog Bottom Rescue - Rescue or Leave Alone (

Rescued hedgehogs. Photo Tanya St. Pierre

Rescued hedgehogs. Photo Tanya St. Pierre