Shakespeare referred to our (modern day) hedgehog as an “urchin” and a “hedge pig” in a handful of his plays and our spiny gardeners’ friend was also mentioned in the bible ("scholars" think (little more than people studying fairy tales in my mind)) in Isaiah 34:11 when “dee lawwwd swore furrrrrrious revenge on dose peeps who dissed his church” (or something).
The curious spined-mammal (in a zoological order all to itself these days I think, but all those years ago, when I read zoology, I think it shared a zoological classification (at least order-wise) with shrews and moles.
It matters not really – what is clear that the hog is an omnivorous, small, spiny placental mammal and is (in the main) thought of with great affection by the British public.
Over 5000 spines (modified hollow hairs), possibly 500 fleas (hedgehog fleas don’t tend to bite humans) and a hidden tiny tail (3/4 inch long), with a snuffly wet nose and stubby wee feet, causing no harm to most of us (admittedly they do seem to cause a problem for some ground-nesting birds in some places where generally they’re not native), it’s not hard to see why they rate as one of our favourite British animals.
When I first became interested in finding out all I could about many of the species we share Britain with, hogs were plentiful and hardly shy. Bumbling, clumsy things, snuffling through leaf piles at the bottom of the garden or under hedges – it wasn’t hard to find them, by sound alone if nothing else.
They’re not exactly rare these days, but its clear that “Miss Tiggywinkle” is suffering something of an alarming decline in numbers, here in Blighty. (Information and scientific evidence here).
Well… no-one seems to know for sure and it probably stems from a number of reasons … but it would appear that our tendency to neaten our gardens (especially our borders with solid walls and impenetrable fences) means hogs are often trapped in an area far smaller than they would prefer – I’m not talking about finding food here – I’m talking a little more carnal than that.
Hedgehogs find our gardens irresistible - plenty of juicy slugs and beetles to eat, very often a good amount of shelter and very rarely badgers to turn them inside out and devour them. Left to their own devices they will wander about at night, pretty freely, exploring a good number of gardens on their nightly rounds – ten gardens wouldn’t be out of the question.
But…. start introducing slug pellets to a few gardens (which, like most toxins will migrate up the food chain eventually) and wall off (or fence off) a few of those gardens and you’ll begin to appreciate the hedgehogs’ issues.
Toxic food (poisoned slugs), unhealthy food (bread and milk which is STILL left out by “caring” wildlife-lovers, even though all it succeeds in doing is upsetting the hog’s stomach and lowering its immunity (for the record almost all adult wild mammals are lactose intolerant)) and a lack of mating opportunities if walled or fenced into a small number of gardens means poor ol’ spikey is in a spot of bovver. I don’t suppose our ever-increasing traffic has helped much either. (“Why did the hedgehog cross the road?” “He wanted to see his flat mate”.)
What can we do about it?
I was overjoyed to hear a hog snuffling through our neighbours’ garden a couple of nights ago. I thought I had heard a hog earlier in the week but forgot about it – but last night on closer investigation with a torch (sorry neighbours!) my hopes were confirmed spectacularly - a big, healthy-looking adult hog – clearly visible on their lawn in the torchlight.
Now… regular readers of this blog might know that Anna and I have recently fenced our entire back garden but I was careful enough to dig a few hoggy-holes under the fence for any wandering snuffler to get through if they so chose. Unfortunately I dug no hog-sized holes under the fence which adjoined our nearest neighbours (we have three gardens alongside ours on our eastern border - we have a large garden!)
This is because I looked at their impenetrable garden and rashly concluded that there could be no hogs there.
How wrong was I?
I have no idea how long that hedgehog has been in their tightly enclosed, fenced garden or indeed whether there’s more than one. I doubt there is more than one and I suspect the hog has been there for some years.
So what then….
Hog highways if you like.
Certainly under that part of the fence in order for it to escape into our garden if it so chooses (I can promise it huge quantities of slugs to eat) and more holes in other parts of the fence for it to wander into other gardens as well - with any luck stumbling across a member of the opposite sex for it to have a chance to procreate – the “purpose” (if you want one) of a wild animal’s/plant’s life is to “further life itself” after all (although not just their own genes, admittedly).
I dug the first hog super highway at around 6pm yesterday, in around ten minutes – and you’ll see from the embedded video clip below (please enlarge the embedded viewer to fill your monitor for smooth playback) that only about 5 hours later, the hog DID INDEED use my “hog highway” – what a speedy (and easy) result!
The “hog next door” came through the tunnel at 10:46pm last night, wandered ‘round our garden and almost exactly (to the second) an hour and a half later (at 12:16am this morning) wandered back next door (to the MUCH smaller, tightly enclosed garden there –where possibly it has spent years alone - they can live to around 7 years old if there are no predators or cars around to gerrem.
It is a wonderful result for us here at the “Old MackDodds Farm” – and all I have to do now is dig a few more holes under the fence (leading to all FOUR gardens which border our huge garden) so our spikey wee friend can possibly get around a bit and potentially even mate.
It will be looking for a suitable spot to hibernate in the next month or so though – I am sure it will hibernate next door (I assume its been doing that for at least a year now if not five), but I may dig in a hibernaculum if I get some time this weekend and see what ‘appens….
A lovely wee beastie – which should help with all the slugs in the garden and fingers-crossed, may provide even more hogs and therefore more enjoyment (from Anna and myself) next year and the years ahead….. and all because we’ve opened up a hog highway and will open up more in the months ahead.
The message is simple – help hogs by digging hoggy highways under your fences and walls. Get your neighbours involved (I will this weekend!)
It works – it really does – as this blog and video (above) demonstrates.
NB. For more information on British hedgehogs and how YOU can help, please click this link and read up on the subject on the British hedgehog preservation society's excellent website.