Photo Credit: Gaudete
Hedgehogs were a familiar sight as I was growing up in Southern Ireland. We used to put out food for them at dusk. Our house was close to woods and soon a hedgehog would venture out and tuck into the scraps of meat in a bowl under the window. Sometimes we would see them trundling down the road at night and, alas squashed hedgehogs by the side of the road were common. Rolling up into a ball is no defence against an oncoming car so, what evolved as an excellent defence against predators, is no match for traffic.
My abiding memories of hedgehogs were the ones that came indoors. We had a black labrador and one Autumn day, I found a hedgehog rolled up tightly in the middle of a pile of leaves in the dog’s bed. We rescued the hedgehog, but over the next few days, the same thing kept happening. I discovered our labrador knew where to find a hibernating hedgehog under leaves in the woods and then started rolling it back towards the house, gathering leaves along the way as they stuck to the spines. Eventually, this large pile of leaves plus hedgehog ended up in the dog’s bed. The leaves and the spines protected the hedgehog from our canine predator, but we made sure the hedgehogs were not disturbed again!
Alas, these fascinating, spiny creatures are in decline in parts of Europe, especially Britain. The loss of amount and quality of hedgehog habitat is a major reason. Hedgehogs thrive in areas rich in soil invertebrates and much arable land today is poor and fragmented, and this is thought to be one reason why hedgehog numbers have declined from over 30 million in the 1950’s to around one million in Britain today. In Ireland, they are still thriving in many places but are thought to be in decline overall.
I love waking up to good news, and this morning I saw that a village in Yorkshire, England, is taking steps to save hedgehogs. The village of Burton Fleming has declared itself to be a hedgehog-friendly place! Carefully placed gaps under fences, feeding stations and even little ladders from ponds have been set up to make this village and its gardens a welcoming place for over 50 hedgehogs. So far it has been a great success, and other villages in Britain are going to follow suit. It is heartening to see that people are taking action to save this charismatic little spiky animal!