March 2017: Nature Watch

February 24 2017

When we visited my cousin and his partner in January they had nine hedgehogs in the garage and 24 in the spare bedroom. This was not a bizarre infestation – this is a hedgehog rescue centre. The ones in the cold garage were hibernating and the ones in the spare room were unable to, for various reasons, and were being looked after until they could be released in spring. Richard and Elaine have been doing this for several years and the cat has finally stopped complaining; she now watches with condescending interest when they feed the babies by hand.

When we visited my cousin and his partner in January they had nine hedgehogs in the garage and 24 in the spare bedroom. This was not a bizarre infestation – this is a hedgehog rescue centre. The ones in the cold garage were hibernating and the ones in the spare room were unable to, for various reasons, and were being looked after until they could be released in spring. Richard and Elaine have been doing this for several years and the cat has finally stopped complaining; she now watches with condescending interest when they feed the babies by hand. 

We had a special demonstration of the hedgehog’s famous armour: it is so much more than just a spiny overcoat! When the hedgehog rolls into a ball it contracts special muscles to pull a spiny hood right over its face.  Other muscles coordinate to tighten around the undercarriage (technical term, apparently) so that all the limbs including the tail are safely hidden. All these muscles close the hedgehog up just like a drawstring bag, with all its vulnerable parts tucked inside. But there’s more: special muscles are engaged so that the tighter the ball the more prominent the spines. Finally, in order to make it almost impossible to grip the animal, individual muscles react to touch by making that part the most densely spiny and pointing the spines purposefully in that direction. 

Despite all this, badgers sometimes breach a hedgehog’s defences and eat them. They are occasionally injured by dogs and foxes, although these can normally only penetrate the defences of those hedgehogs that are too young or sick to respond effectively. 

Hedgehogs are still to be found in our area but they are in decline nationally with large areas of arable farmland being unsuitable for them and some of the highest densities now being found in the suburbs. You can help hedgehogs by providing them with access to your garden - simply cut a 13x13cm hole in your fence (too small for most pets). Also; use only wildlife-friendly slug pellets, leave wild areas, check bonfires before burning and lawns and other vegetation before cutting - especially if you are strimming tall vegetation. 

If you want to feed hedgehogs it is safe to offer complete cat biscuits or wet cat food, chopped unsalted peanuts and water. Please do not put out bread and milk, even if you did so as a child (guilty) as it is not good for them. 

Hedgehogs should be out and about now in decent weather but if you see one in the daytime it may need help as a healthy hedgehog would not be out and about in broad daylight. Pick it up (carefully!) and put it in a box with an old towel to cover it. Keep it warm and email our local hedgehog project organiser, Claudia, on BS7hedgehogs@outlook.com – she will be able to advise. 

 Hedgehogstreet.org also has lots of information on our shy, spiny friends.