Next week we are celebrating hedgehogs, our garden helpers. Although hedgehogs are consistently voted the nation’s favourite mammal, their numbers fell from 30 million in the 1950s to just a million today; this is an incredible drop of 97%. As always, human activity is to blame. We have cemented our front gardens to accommodate several bins, we use pesticides that poison slugs, snails, beetles and caterpillars, their source of food, and our roads are so congested that hedgehogs are killed in great numbers when they attempt crossing. Today’s UN report warned that one million species are threatened with extinction, among them, hedgehogs.
The social changes presently taking place make it acceptable to tarmac front gardens to make space for bins and to park cars. World-renowned English gardens, front and back, are now often empty spaces without a profusion of insect-attracting plants. Garden fences without small cut-out holes at ground level (which would allow hedgehogs to travel from one garden to another in search of food – beetles, caterpillars, slugs, and snails) prevent hedgehogs from thriving. There should be in every garden a wild corner that has a lot of wooden branches piled up, to provide nesting space, although a proper hedgehog house, covered by twigs for safety, would be better. This corner should be quite wild, with long grass, wood logs, and some ferns. Any netting used in the garden should be kept at least 15 -20 inches above the ground to prevent hedgehog from getting tangled in it. Even the smallest pond needs to have large stones lining the edge to allow hedgehogs to scramble out. Above all, we should garden organically, for our own sake as well as hedgehogs’. A shallow dish of water with a few pebbles in and a saucer of cat or dog food would be greatly appreciated by our nightly visitors. Milk and bread should never be given to hedgehogs as they would make them ill.
When I first asked the question in the title of this post, my answer would have been – no, but I have since discovered that there are quite a few people who are devoted to saving hedgehogs. Dr. Brian May of Queen fame created the Amazing Grace rescue centre for hedgehogs and a wonderful convalescence garden. Locally, we have the well-established St. Tiggywinkle’s hospital, and around the country, there is an army of people devoted to saving hedgehogs, that includes two 13-year-old schoolgirls. They have a little ‘cottage hospital’ in their garden and have learned how to treat many medical emergencies with help from a vet.
But we also need urgently hedgehog-friendly gardens where they can be released. My own fascination with hedgehogs started years back when I found one winter morning a gravely-sick youngster in my garden, a few feet away from my kitchen. I have written more about this extraordinary friendship in other posts, but for now, I have to just say that I learned a lot over the six and half years of our companionship, and my experience taught me how wrong our preconceptions are about hedgehogs. I would like to think that it isn’t too late to save these very special creatures, but for this to happen we need every person with a garden to join forces with others in their neighbourhood to look after hedgehogs day in and day out. As so many people don’t even know who lives a couple of houses down or up from them, many old people are isolated and lonely, and community spirit in many towns and cities is all but gone; are we going to change our ways for the sake of hedgehogs?