THE next few weeks will be literally a matter of life and death for one of Britain's most popular mammals, the hedgehog - and garden-owners are being asked to act as life-savers.
Between now and the first frosts, says the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, young hedgehogs born this spring are likely to be entering our gardens as "autumn juveniles" - one of the most dangerous periods of their life-cycle.
Unless they have managed to put on weight through this awful summer - they need to weigh at least 22 oz - they will have not have built enough reserves of fat to last them through the long winter hibernation.
If they are seen foraging during the day, a highly unusual activity for a nocturnal animal, it means they are desperately short of food. If they seem to have a wobbly walk, or are simply lying still as though sunbathing, they could be on the verge of death.
Animal-lovers are urged by the society to put out meat-based pet food and water in places where cats cannot reach it. And if they find what seems to be a desperately ill animal, pick up in a thick towel ad keep it indoors in a cardboard box and a well-wrapped hot water bottle.
Then, ring the society for advice one what to do next or obtain the address of your nearest hedgehog rescue centre: 01584-890801.