Author: Joan Sumner

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Thursday, April 13th, 2017 at 11:30 pm
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Nature

Homing The Hedgehogs

They’re BACK  – I am still adopted by roaming hedgehogs… and it feels magical.

My garden is 3×9 m. – small by anyone’s standards. Most in this new-built estate are turfed, safe playgrounds. Deliberate halving of my plot into patio and shrubbery, carefully planted, gradually attracted small birds.

Unexpectedly, in late autumn 2014, I spotted a hedgehog occasionally on the patio until mid-November. I’d been providing ground high protein mix for robins and blackbirds that proved irresistible to my hedgehog.

Delighted, I unearthed my childhood “Observer Book of British Mammals.” It revealed hedgehogs are omnivorous. They can climb metal drainpipes, kill chickens, and live up to twelve years in the wild. Hedgehogs apparently mate for life, gestation period is short and the offspring, produced midsummer, are called ‘kits.’ Their natural enemies are foxes and badgers.

The lady at the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advised ‘put out fishless cat food and water – no milk.’ If spotted in daylight, it’s ill and I should phone their hedgehog rescue centre (03000.999.999).

Mine turned up a pointy nose at cat food.

Returning from hospital the following January, with neither energy nor inclination to garden, the weeds ran wild. By March, I’d grown a hedgehog paradise!

My hog and its family returned, using the same entry-and-exit point as the previous autumn, rooting around the patio and undergrowth when the street lighting came on. I bought dried hedgehog food to build them up post-hibernation.

Inability to tell them apart is part of the fascination of my prickly guests. The group tended to visit in sequence so seeing a pair was really exciting. I’d never seen a hedgehog walk and was amazed at the length of leg and turn of speed to leave, if it forgot the group schedule. They arrive and leave separately but within minutes of each other, as if queuing behind the neighbour’s fence. On average, each stayed for twenty minutes.

Apparently, their sight is poor and their strongest sense is smell. They tend to squat and freeze in face of danger. Scaring them off was the last thing I wanted to do. This meant stalking, in gloom, for a good shot while avoiding standing on them.

Their garden camouflage is first class.

In June of year two, a trio appeared together, one considerably smaller than the pair it followed. I thought that it might be the previous year’s kit. Scotties that often stayed here would sit for hours at the French windows silently watching the spiny invasion.

Timing of the dogs’ late-night leak was essential to hedgehog safety management. I’m in two minds whether to share this with you but it has such a ‘yuck’ factor that I must. Normally, the hedgehogs drink the water provided… but my hedgehogs prefer pedigree dog pee!!

I’ve become something of an expert on hedgehog poo, too!

This is the fourth year that I have welcomed them back in the spring. Each

winter, when they disappear into their hedgerows’ hibernation nest, I wonder whether they will survive and return.

Last summer, I noticed one of the adults having difficulty heaving its girth up the garden steps, belly grazing the edge of the stones – possibly heavily pregnant. A broken slab below the first step did the trick for a couple of weeks. Then, the sow disappeared, I think. I can distinguish some that take a slightly different route to their exit hole.

For some weeks an adult and junior turned up together but I have no idea whether they were taking turns in feeding as I was away a lot. Worried that there might be a litter, my neighbours kindly left food and water in my garden, watching the hedgehogs from their upstairs window.

My granddaughter, unable to stay awake late enough on summer sleepovers, had yet to see the nocturnal forays. I explained hedgehogs had their roots in prehistory, did not like to be penned in and, unfortunately, did not give command performances.

One autumn night at eight, two were in the garden so I phoned and she came in her pyjamas with a camera. Amazingly, the hedgehog youngster arrived, too, so she saw three together in one night. She got some good close-ups and went home happy.

This Christmas, I received a hedgehog doormat, books, mugs, socks and a furry bright-eyed key ring.

If you’re a fan of hedgehogs, I can recommend Hugh Warwick’s “A Prickly Affair.”  It is thoroughly researched over many years and is highly readable, focusing on hedgehog survival in UK in a humorous and self-deprecating way.

Unfortunately, many hedgehogs die, in their nests during excessively wet winters. But, I’m delighted that my little crew have survived yet again, returning to reassure and delight us this spring.

This feature won 3rd prize in the Edinburgh Writers’ Club General Article Competition.

 

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