Save the Hedgehog!

Posted on: 30 September 2011 by Alexander Hay

In defence of the spiky ones, as their numbers decline sharply, an erinaceophile writes of his adventures with one such beast, and gives some hints on how to bring them back from the brink

Is it 'a hedgehog' or 'an hedgehog'?

As the portly, spiky worm-worriers face a severe decline in numbers, what can we do to save one of our best-loved mammals from extinction?

It was only fairly recently that hedgehogs were still common. For example, 13 years ago, I can remember a brutal battle between two boars in the middle of the night, the smaller one trying to attack the larger, who was holding him off by turning to his side and presenting a phalanx of prickles.

Eventually, the smaller animal waddled off, leaving the victor to a long night of foraging and beetle munching. These sorts of late night spectacles were frequent back then, but have tailed off sharply, to the point that I've not actually seen a hedgehog in the past four years.

Indeed, their numbers have declined sharply, from 30 million in the 1950s, to a mere 1.5 million today. What happened? A mixture of climate change and different methods of argiculture and gardening, not to mention some recent harsh winters, the rise of determined predators like urban foxes, and good old fashioned road deaths, have combined to put the hedgehog on the back foot.

Or are they? The Guardian's Colin Taylor tells of his intimate adventures with Dave the Hedgehog:

...One cold December night, I opened the front door to find a small hedgehog on my doorstep. I had heard that they needed to weigh at least 500g to have any chance of surviving, so I put him on my wife's postal scales. He came in at 370g. So there we were – for the next few months, I was responsible for a hedgehog...

But how best to care for a hedgehog?

...Feeding hedgehogs is easy. Cat food. Tinned or dry, both in Dave's case, and sometimes a grape or piece of apple. He loved chicken too and the occasional biscuit. Don't give them bread and milk – lactose is not good for them. They eat slugs too, but they carry a nasty parasite that affects hedgehog lungs. I inadvertently got rid of all his fleas too (if he had any) by burning his newspaper bedding every day, as fleas lay their eggs on it...

Soon, Dave was well enough (and big enough) to be let loose and so back into the garden he went. One success story then, but what about all the other hedgehogs who aren't rescued?

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society suggests that you leave out food for your local hedgehog. Being omnivores, cereals like Weetabix, raisins or sugar-free muesli will keep them happy. Only put out cat food if there are no cats nearby to eat it or if it doesn't attract the local fox/badger contingent. The current trend for tidy, sterile gardens is another no-no, as hedgehogs like a bit of leaf litter and tall grass to rummage through. woodpiles are another favourite haunt. Make sure your garden's not sealed off, though, and be very careful with garden implements, lawn mowers and hedge-trimmers as these can cause terrible injuries to hedgehogs who like to curl up in exactly the sort of places where accidents can happen.

You can also make a special hedgehog house - St. Tiggywinkle's has a special fact-sheet on how to build one HERE. You can also support Uist Hedgehog Rescue, which aims to relocate hedgehogs from the Outer Hebrides, where ironically they have become so numerous as to be a pest. Or just pay attention to your local wildlife - you'd be amazed just how much of it there is, at least for now.

[SOURCE: The Guardian]


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Alexander Hay

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