Monday, 2 January 2017

UK Hedgehogs
(Erinaceus europaeus)

On an early evening between Christmas and New Year's Eve, I step outside to breathe away the excess of cake, mince pies and chocolate. It is dark, and cold enough to assume the layer of frost that will decorate the garden by morning. The soft glow of Christmas tree lights illuminates me from the hall. It is a silent night, until movement in the grass draws my attention to the furthest side of the garden, where the street light silhouettes the scampering form of a hedgehog, already on the driveway and quickly beneath the stationary car. From this distance, they all appear too small for winter survival. I move to the edge of the driveway but its knowledge of the darkness is far greater than mine, and it is nowhere to be seen.

The garden is just a few valley miles from the Sanctuary. I became aware of a hedgehog presence in the spring of 2015, tripping over a huddled ball of spikes on the darkened path. Possibly tempted in by the regular overspill of bird food, or the vast number of slugs and bugs in residence, I endeavoured to entice its return with nightly portions of mealworms. They don't all run away, and pretty soon the garden was on the list of nightly food-stops for many a neighbourhood hog.

Active throughout the spring, summer and autumn months, they appear to have their own nightly routine which undoubtedly includes the use of several local gardens.

Though their differences in size can help narrow down the identification of certain individuals, it has largely proved difficult to distinguish one from another, and estimate the number of hedgehogs that visit the garden. As many as five individuals have been spotted at any one time.

It is wonderful to see the small, awkwardly shaped garden finding purpose for these animals. The changeable weather during 2016 has encouraged the hedgehogs to remain active well into December. January and February still lie in wait, as does March and the ever unpredictable April, so regular nourishment is provided in the hope their weight is sufficient to cope with the winter months ahead.
The Hedgehog Preservation Society can provide advice for all hedgehog related concerns.

No matter which report you read, the message is the same: the population of UK hedgehogs is in serious decline. Some reports suggest the UK population has fallen from thirty six million in the 1950s to a figure now numbered in hundreds of thousands.
Without intervention, this small mammal cannot survive this continuing decline and extinction seems somewhat inevitable.

Loss of habitat appears to be a major reason for the decline in the hedgehog population, which makes gardens an increasingly valuable resource. It also means we can provide them with the help they need, literally on our very doorsteps.

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