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Photo 44232063 / Dormouse © © Miroslav Hlavko
Which animals are the true hibernators?
We may all feel like hunkering down during the winter months but which animals truly hibernate in the UK?

Hibernation is a survival tactic, a form of deep sleep, as protection against a period of time when food is scarce or non-existent. When temperatures drop, it is often too cold for some mammals to function without expending huge amounts of energy, especially when there is no food available to top up reserves. 

Some animals and reptiles will hibernate, whereas birds may migrate to warmer climates. Insects also partake in a form of deep-sleep similar to hibernation, this is called diapause.

True hibernation however, is when the body functions slow down, so that very little energy is expended to stay alive.

The only British mammals that truly 'hibernate' are hazel dormice, bats and hedgehogs. All three of which are now an endangered species.

Dormice usually start looking for somewhere to hibernate in autumn, these tree-dwelling creatures come down to the ground to sleep through winter. They often choose the base of a tree, making a nest in leaves or an old log, to avoid the freezing temperatures.  

Here are a few ways we can help with the conservation of dormice, from our friends at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species: 

  1. Hunt for hazelnuts with circular holes nibbled in them.
  2. Report any dormice sightings
  3. Join a local dormouse conservation group.

In the UK, bats hibernate from the end of November until late February, early March. This means they need to put on enough fat reserves to last through almost four months! Some bats huddle together in groups for safety and warmth. Not all bats hang upside down, some crawl into crevices in trees, or nooks and crannies in walls and rooftops, to wait out the winter.  
Installing a bat box is a great way to offer them somewhere safe to roost. We can also help them stock up on energy reserves by increasing the population of night-flying insects and insects in general. To do this grow plants with different shaped flowers; just like the ones in the Seedball Bat Mix shown below. 

Hedgehogs typically hibernate through the winter months when insects are scarce. This is usually from the end of December until March, although it depends on the weather and individual hedgehog. For their winter sleep, solitary hedgehogs will build themselves a cosy nest using dried grass, stems, leaves and twigs, called a hibernacula.

The increased rarity of these three natural hibernators may be a direct correlation to the massive loss of insects generally.

Many insects overwinter in a transitional pupation stage, often after burrowing into loose surface soil, leaf matter or dead wood; habitats we as humans have been progressively ‘clearing up’ for decades.

‘Pests’ – no such thing.
Sadly many insect larvae, also called ‘grubs’ have been viewed as pests in the past and eradicated.

Insect grubs are protein-rich, and often sought out by mammals and birds as a food-supply for their young.

Stopping the use of pesticides in the garden and wider landscape can hopefully help rebalance biodiversity.  Learning to live in harmony alongside nature is the only sensible way forward.

Little gems - Chafer beetle grubs

Dormouse © Miroslav Hlavko | Chafer grubs © Andreas Häuslbetz |

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