6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today click here

The Dorset wildlife sleeping their way through winter

10:59 15 November 2016

Hedgehogs will hibernate in wood piles and leaves

Hedgehogs will hibernate in wood piles and leaves


Sally Welbourn, from Dorset Wildlife Trust, looks at the local wildlife who snooze their way through winter in order to survive

How many times have you thought: I’d love to hibernate through winter? Whilst the thought of the cold dark months ahead may not appeal, for some species their extended deep sleep or ‘torpor’ is necessary for their very survival.

Colder weather can make it almost impossible for some wildlife to survive the winter. Food becomes scarce, so wildlife has to adapt – and hibernation is a remarkable survival mechanism to get through this difficult time of year.

During hibernation some species can reduce their normal body functions dramatically, dropping their heart rate, metabolic rate and temperature, allowing what little energy they have to be used up over a longer period of time. They start their hibernation after filling up on food during August, when they store up as much energy as possible to last them throughout the winter.

Hibernation is a complicated process which isn’t without risk. A long hard winter for example, can have a detrimental effect when it’s time to wake up; if food is still scarce when they emerge hungry from their sleep they are right back where it started. Sleeping wildlife is also unaware of changes in their surroundings for weeks on end and this can leave them vulnerable to predation and disturbance, no matter how protected their shelter is.

Some animals are better known than others for hibernating – the hedgehog and dormouse are famous for being dormant in the winter, but insects such as the small tortoiseshell butterfly, bumblebees and ladybirds also hibernate through the colder months. Equally, some animals which are thought to hibernate are surprisingly active. Red and grey squirrels scurry around during the summer and autumn months, storing their food in the ground to provide enough longer-term sustenance for the winter, so they don’t need to hibernate.

Hibernation is a fascinating natural phenomenon but also a huge challenge for wildlife, but there are things we can do to give them a helping hand. Make sure that you have sheltered, undisturbed spaces in your garden with lots of cover (log and leaf piles area ideal) will give wildlife, such as hedgehogs, somewhere to sleep. You could even make a hibernaculum (a place wildlife can seek refuge) for any kind of garden wildlife needing shelter for the winter. If you find a hibernating animal, it is best to leave it alone as waking it will use up its much-needed energy, and after all the effort its gone to, it probably wouldn’t thank you for a rude awakening! 

5 common hibernators

Hedgehogs: These are ‘true’ hibernators. During November and January they can drop their body temperature from 35 degrees, to 10 degrees and their heart rate drops from 190 beats per minute to just 20. Be sure to check bonfire piles in the garden before lighting in case there’s a sleeping hedgehog contained within!

Bats: With their main source of food, invertebrates on the wing, scarce hibernation is the only way bats can survive. They often choose underground sites with a constant cool temperature, to avoid being awoken.

Dormice: The clue is in the name of this snoozing rodent, which comes from the French ‘dormir’ which means ‘to sleep’. And from the first autumn frosts dormice retire to carefully concealed woven nests, often at ground level or just below, to hibernate. They can let their metabolism drop by 90%, and their body temperature can drop to that of their surroundings.

Reptiles: Because they are cold-blooded and unable to regulate their own body temperature reptiles depend on the temperature outside and are often seen basking in the sun. Reptiles hibernate between October and March, hiding beneath vegetation, or in the roots of trees.

Insects: Technically speaking insects don’t always ‘truly’ hibernate, but go into a dormant state. Most butterflies enter the dormant stage as an egg, larva, pupa or even as an adult including, peacock, brimstone, large tortoiseshell, comma and small tortoiseshell. Insects hibernate in a variety of different spaces, from grass margins, to bare soil, hedgerows and walls. 


Winter walks in Dorset - When the weather gets colder, there’s not much more refreshing than a brisk walk across the countryside, and there’s plenty of that here in Dorset…


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Dorset visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Dorset staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Dorset account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Friday, February 24, 2017

We don’t think photos of Dorset can ever get old. Here are 10 of the best shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Thursday, February 23, 2017

From Kathak dancing and opera to a sleepover with dinosaurs, Helen Stiles rounds up her pick of events happening around the county this month

Read more
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This year’s Dorset Wildlife Calendar features breathtaking aerial images of some of its reserves

Read more
Monday, February 20, 2017

Edward Griffiths embarks on a challenging walk which rewards with sensational vistas across coast and countryside

Read more
Friday, February 17, 2017

From farmhouse to country house, tea room to hotel Sue Quinn leaves no crumb untested as she seeks out some of the finest cream teas in the county

Read more
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

From snowdrops and steam trains to Pre-Raphaelite art treasures, Andy Greeves explores the many different reasons to fall in love with some of our local towns this Valentine’s Day

Read more
Monday, February 13, 2017

Edward Griffiths explores Boscombe’s history - from royal connections to artisans’ homes - with a few surprises along the way

Read more
Monday, February 13, 2017

Our guide to some of the best things to do in Dorset this half term…

Read more
Friday, February 3, 2017

We all love Dorset, right? And some of us probably think there’s no place better. Here’s why...

Read more
Friday, February 3, 2017

Covering just under half of the county, the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a place you just have to pay a visit to one day...

Read more
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We take a trip through Dorset (and the alphabet) to take a look at 26 things that make this county great...

Read more
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

From sea shanties to skating Helen Stiles rounds up her pick of events happening around the county this month

Read more
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Celebrated horticulturist and Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Show Gold winner, Mary Payne reveals the garden design secrets behind The Wooded Valley at Compton Acres in Poole

Read more
Monday, January 23, 2017

Stamp duty changes and Brexit all impacted on the UK property market, but how has it affected Dorset? Andy Greeves gets the views of some of the county’s leading estate agents

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

subscription ad
subscription ad

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Dorset Magazine Application Link

Local Business Directory

Dorset's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search