The other day I realised that it’s been a while since I've seen a hedgehog in my garden so I decided to find out why.
The people at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk) have a wealth of information about their needs and how to help preserve them. They kindly allowed me to use the information and photographs for this article so that it can be passed on to readers of the Barrow Voice.
The last time I remember encountering a hedgehog here was quite a few years ago when one evening my dogs were very interested in something snuffling about in the garden so off I went armed with a torch to see what they'd found. It was a hedgehog going about his nightly business looking for slugs and snails, worms and beetles too. Certainly lots of slugs and snails here!
By the time I got there he'd rolled up tightly ..... all the dogs could see was this tight spiny ball and they quickly backed away. It’s a brilliant defence: the sharp spines are modified hairs and there can be 6 or 7 thousand on an adult hog so not easy for a predator to penetrate!
The only parts that are vulnerable are tummy and legs which he safely tucks away inside. What did surprise me, as I rolled him into a box to move him to safety, were all the fleas around him like an aura in the torchlight! These won't transfer to your cats or dogs so your pets are safe.
It seems I'm not the only person concerned about a lack of hedgehogs: recent surveys show that the population is in decline and has been for a while. The main causes seem to be intensive farming with fewer hedgerows and wild areas for them to live and modern housebuilding. It has changed our gardens; they are smaller and tidier now with big fences and hard landscaping so there’s no way for hedgehogs to travel looking for food as they can go over a mile every night - no wild corners to rest in during the day either.
We can happily co-exist with hedgehogs though with a little care. If we make small hog- sized holes at the base of our, and our neighbours’, fences we can create a pathway to allow them to travel in safety as so many are killed every night as they cross roads looking for food.
And if we use humane slug traps, like beer traps, and wildlife friendly pesticides rather than poisonous ones they really help.
Hedgehogs hibernate so as the weather turns colder they look for safe places to build nests: under garden sheds and in compost-heaps for example. They will also nest in bonfire piles so do check before you light one that you haven't a sleepy resident inside!
You can buy or make safe hedgehog houses, see the BHPS leaflet; you can download a PDF giving details. We can all make a difference with small changes and hope the wildlife return to our gardens.