We have an interesting guest staying with us at the moment. As I was walking across the field the other night I met a very ill-looking hedgehog. The obvious initial sign was the large number of ticks all across the face and body (we eventually removed 28!) but closer inspection showed a nasty gash on the head, possibly from a barbed wire fence. She was lethargic, unfocused and incapable of defending herself against anything, so a safe haven was an essential requirement.

Image: F.Winder

An unexpected house guest

Hedgehogs are complicated members of the UK’s fauna, instantly recognisable and famously anthropomorphised into the ‘Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’ of Beatrix Potter’s stories, but disliked for being spiny and carrying fleas. They were once one of our most common mammal species, occurring across the UK from the coast to the upland tree line. Closely associated with hedges they were most abundant where grassland was found next to woodland, eating ground living insects but also taking carrion, eggs or the like when the opportunity arose.

However in 2007 hedgehogs were added to the national list of species in need of protection. Hedgehog numbers in the UK were estimated at about 1.5 million in 1995, a massive decrease from the 30 million estimated in the 1950s.  Road casualty counts carried out between 1990 and 2001 suggest declines of 50% in that decade alone. But you will note the use of the term “estimated”; it is notoriously difficult to survey for hedgehogs. The Mammal Society are trialling a new technique which hopes to use footprint records to assess population levels.

The problem is what to recommend that will make some inroads into the alarming decrease in hedgehog numbers. Their decline is probably due to rural habitat fragmentation, and pesticide use both at the farm and garden level which reduces available prey and hedgerow loss. They need that in-between habitat – not quite woodland but not entirely grassland – that is difficult to define and poorly recognised in either grant or policy support. Putting more trees in the landscape can definitely help; there doesn’t have to be loads, just a few trees in the right place joining up suitable habitat patches, and areas of longer vegetation left to their own devices.

And Spike? (- all hedgehogs are Spike on first acquaintance, it is only if they stay around that they develop into a new identity.) She is fine; after a couple of nights without the blood-sucking ticks and now her head wound is closed, she is eating well and will be going back to her hedge this evening. I look forward to meeting her again under better circumstances. 

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer (and official hedgehog rescuer)


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
This entry was posted in Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Woodland creation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Hedgepig

  1. JUNE VERRIER says:

    they are delightfull we have one that has just moved in after saving it from the pond , they come in to steal our cats dinner . . so glad this one did not drown .

  2. Joon says:

    Unfortunately I only see small ones dead on road these days. I hope their numbers can improve.

  3. Henry says:

    Nice work Frances. Habitat fragmentation and over-tidiness are the big issues in urban and suburban areas too. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) launched their Hedgehog Street campaign a year ago and now have over 22,000 ‘Hedgehog Champions’ registered. The main drive of the campaign is to try to encourage people to work co-operatively with their neighbours to link up their gardens, remove hazards and improve the habitat for ‘hogs: check it out! – http://www.hedgehogstreet.org

  4. Kay Haw says:

    Wonderful news! Well done for nursing her back to health – in return she will eat those little pests that love to ravage your vegetable garden 🙂

  5. Nikki Williams says:

    Nice work Frances – Another hedgepig fights another day 😉

  6. cecile53 says:

    hopefully Spike will stay healthy . Lucky for her you did find her 🙂

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