It's National Hedgehog Awareness Week! You might lately have found these lovely little creatures making a visit to your garden in the dead of night. We're pleased to have our very own Hedgehog Blogger, who has written an article for us to celebrate this special occasion..

''What started as a chance encounter on a dark street led to a winter filled with gnawed chicken drumsticks, piles of very smelly newspaper and two bulky and contented hedgehogs emerging from hibernation and ready to face the spring back in the wild. Hedgehogs have always been one of my favourite British animals and as a child I remember finding them in the garden – or less happily squashed on the road – with some frequency, but as has been well-publicised the spiny foragers have been one of the hardest-hit of our wildlife in recent times with recent estimates suggesting a 50% loss since the turn of the century. Intensive farming techniques and, in their urban strongholds, the increasing fencing-off of gardens and green spaces has had a severe impact on habitat and food supplies leaving hedgehogs increasingly in peril.

Another taxing time comes with the onset of hibernation as it is a race against time to bulk up enough to survive the winter shutdown. With hedgehogs having two litters a year, the brood born in late summer face the toughest task to pile on enough weight to get through the months ahead, and it was one of these hapless youngsters which I had encountered on the October evening in question, scurrying along the pavement next to a busy Atherton street. Lacking nothing in feistiness and spirit but weighing a bare fraction of the minimum 600 grams recommended if the animal is to hibernate successfully, it was clear the junior hog needed some help, and if any consolation can be drawn from the hedgehogs’ plight it is the sheer number of people prepared to give up their time and money to act as carers. Having taken ‘my’ little one to one of these care centres it felt only right to try and give something back, and so a few weeks later two healthy-weight hogs made the return journey to take up residence in the garage for the duration of their hibernation. Giants in comparison to the poor tiddler I had handed over – who also eventually hibernated successfully – the two hedgehogs were unpredictable beasts. With a relatively mild November and December they proved infuriatingly unpredictable, waking up on the coldest nights to tuck into cat food, mealworms and chicken legs but then stubbornly remaining asleep on the warmer nights whilst their food went unattended and to waste. With a colder snap in the new year their nocturnal activities ceased altogether for weeks on end, to create a nagging doubt that they had expired deep in their hutches, but come the onset of March they gradually stirred and it soon became apparent that their winter sleep had done wonders for their appetites. Both can tuck away a chicken leg and a pile of cat food in a night, usually as messily as possible, and inevitably both can also produce an equal amount of output – also as messily as possible. With spring finally arriving both are well set for return to the wilds and hopefully a safe future as one of our most characterful animals faces ongoing challenges.

So how can people help? As with all our wildlife, people’s actions can have both a profoundly positive and profoundly negative impact on their chances of survival. Urban hedgehogs are generally doing better than their rural counterparts, showing how closely the species’ fortunes are linked to ourselves, and by leaving out cat food or specialist hedgehog food – never bread and milk! – in your garden you can help. Hedgehogs roam large territories and enclosed gardens are a big problem – it is notable that I have seen more hedgehogs in the years since I moved to an estate with open-plan green spaces than beforehand – so if you have a fenced-off space then consider punching a hedgehog-sized hole in the bottom of a couple of fence panels to allow them easy access. And if you are particularly keen then make enquires, join the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and perhaps support your local hedgehog carer by offering to host a couple of hogs through their hibernation – just be prepared to get lots of spare newspapers!''

If your children have shown interest in our furry little friends, why not take them down to your local library to find out more or even enjoy Beatrix Potter's ''The Tales of Mrs Tigglewinkle''....