The Humble Hedgehog.

The hedgehog is one of Britain's most recognisable mammal. Its spiny appearance is unmistakable and if you have ever tried to pick one up with bare hands, unforgettable!

The hedgehog is much beloved in our culture and in our informative years. Who can forget the adorable Mrs Tiggy-Winkle in the Beatrix Potter stories or Fuzzypeg in Alison Uttley's stories of Little Grey Rabbit.

Hedgehogs are one of only a few British mammals which truly hibernate. Hibernation begins in mostly October or November when the mammal begins to drift into a sort of suspended animation where it stops moving, stops breathing for long periods of time, its heart rate drops to around 20 beats per minute and become cold to touch.

Breeding starts soon after the hedgehog wakes up in spring. Hedgehogs do not mate for life they just come together once and the males may mate with many female during his lifetime. As most mating takes place during the dark not many people have had the pleasure of seeing this in action. However they do make a huge amount of noise as the pair circle each other for anything up to an hour snorting all the time. They come together only when the female is ready. She has to adopt a strange flat position so the male will not injure himself in the act!! The young, usually 4 or 5, are born in a nest which the mother has built specifically for the purpose. Babies are bald and have their eyes shut. But within hours the first white spines can begin to grow through the skin. The eyes will open after about 10 hours.

After about a month, the mother will take them out on feeding trips, then only a couple of weeks later, the young move out to survive on their own. About a fifth of all baby hedgehogs do not live to be able to leave the nest.

A hedgehogs diet consists of beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, small mammals, slugs and rather controversially, some birds eggs.

Hedgehogs spend most of their day sleeping and tend to wake up only when it gets dark. If you see a hedgehog during the day it can often signify a problem. During the night male hedgehogs can travel up to 3km from their home and enter a number of female territories. They are not particularly fussy where they go, but will return to any reliable source of food. They do not mark their territories in any particular way but they do leave a faint scent trail their underside brushes against the ground. Females, however, are less adventurous and only travel about 1km a night to find food for themselves and their young. Hedgehogs can swim but they tire easily and can often drown in a pond or pool with no easy way of escape. One strange and as yet still properly explained habit the hedgehog has 'self-anointing' or licking their bodies with a frothy saliva. It is possible that this is to ward off fleas or to deter potential predators.

In 1997 Nick Moyes and colleagues from the Derby City Museum undertook a Derby City Hedgehog survey.

In summary a total of 248 completed City Hedgehog Survey Forms were received from 200 people in Derby. (This represented 190 separate addresses as some families returned more than one form). Over 300 individual hedgehog records were received, most of which were from the within the City area. Hedgehogs were reported from most populated parts of the City, especially Allestree, Chaddesden, Darley Abbey, Littleover, Mickleover, Normanton, Oakwood, Sinfin and Spondon. Hedgehogs have also been seen right inside the City Centre on Sowter Road by Derby Industrial Museum, and on St Alkmund's Way. Out of  97 separate one kilometre map squares (1km2) partly or wholly in Derby, there are records from 58 of them directly as a result of this survey. There are 55 kilometre squares wholly falling within the City from which hedgehogs have now been recorded in 37 of them since the 1997 survey began.  By the end of 1999 233 post-1997 hedgehog records from Derby, from an all-time total of 298.

You might also like to look at the hedgehog distribution map for the Sorby area 1970 - 1997 and 1980-2000 on the Sorby Society website ( Where the hedgehog is noted as being particularly common in the suburban areas of Sheffield, Rotherham, Chesterfield, Dronfield and Stocksbridge. There are few records from high moorland. The line of the high gritstone edges to the west of Sheffield can be clearly seen as a gap on the map between the suburbs of Sheffield and the valleys of the Peak District illustrating the preference for lower altitudes. It is not common in the White Peak.

So if you have any Derbyshire hedgehog records, no matter how old they are, please send them to Derek Whiteley (and they will then be copied to DBRC on an annual basis).

Derby hedgehog sightings map

Map 1. 300 hedgehog sightings are represented on this map of the Derby City boundary. Each solid dot reflects the presence of at least one hedgehog seen since the start of 1997 in a single one-kilometre map square. Hollow dots represent older records acquired before the City Hedgehog Survey began.

  Hedgehog records from Derby Biological Records Centre

Further reading:

Morris, P. (1983) Hedgehogs. Whittet Books

Morris, PA (1994) The Hedgehog. The Mammal Society

Reeve, N (1994) Hedgehogs. T & AD Poyser Ltd

Sedgley, J (1991) Hedgehogs in your garden? The Mammal Society


Hedgehog lifecycle and ecology:

British Hedgehog Preservation Society:

The hedgehog by John Clare (1793-1864)

The hedgehog hides beneath the rotten hedge
And makes a great round nest of grass and sedge,
Or in a bush or hollow of a tree;
And many often stoop and say they see
Him roll and fill his prickles full of crabs
And creep away; and where the magpie dabs
His wing at muddy dyke, in aged root
He makes a nest and fills it full of fruit,
On the hedge-bottom hunts for crabs and sloes
And whistles like a cricket as he goes.
It rolls up like a ball or shapeless hogs
When gipsies hunt it with their noisy dogs
I've seen it in their camps; they call it sweet,
Though black and bitter and unsavoury meat.

Debbie Court