By Connie Tindale
SPRING is officially here even though the nights are still longer than the days and the weather forecast is all doom and gloom. Garden plants take no notice of forecasts and, if not already in bloom, are poking their shoots above ground level. Daffodils, crocus and primroses are already brightening up the borders and bluebells are burgeoning their way in the light. In all of this you may be thinking about tidying up your garden by mowing the lawn or strimming away the long grass at the bottom of a hedge. Perhaps you are feeling really energetic and want to stick a fork into your compost heap ready to mulch those growing blooms. BEWARE and TAKE CARE. There may well be a sleeping hedgehog curled up in that pile of leaves or tucked away in that long grass. Have you ever seen the horrific injuries that a strimmer inflicts on those small prickly bodies? It almost slices them in half and leaves them in agony. You can avoid this terrible outcome by walking over the ground first and checking the grass before you clear it. The same with the compost heap or log pile, check it before you stab it with that fork.
Hedgehogs are now nearly as endangered as red squirrels. Just a small amount of care can help preserve them. As spring progresses, hibernating hedgehogs wake up. For many, the first signs will be small black droppings on the lawn. When they wake after sleeping, for weeks the hedgehogs will be hungry and thirsty. You can help there too. A little bit of meatbased cat or dog food (not fish-based as it upsets their stomachs) and a bowl of water will be manna from heaven for a hedgehog that is trying to build its weight up again. Early risers have already started courtship routines ready for mating. Courtship involves the larger male walking around the female nudging her. He can keep this up for a long time. If she objects she will run off or curl into a ball, but if not then she will just stand there and let him sniff her to see is she is ready to reproduce. Not all hedgehogs hibernate. I have had three visiting my garden for their supper every night for the entire winter. While food was plentiful there was no real need for them to sleep. I have six hibernation homes in the garden but I think that only one of them has an occupant. I cannot check as I have no wish to disturb anything that might be inside one of them. I will clean them out and put in fresh straw next month (April) so that they are once again ready for occupation – this time for the rearing of babies. Apart from the hedgehogs in the garden, I had five autumn juveniles living first in my study and then in my shed until they reached a weight where life could be sustained should they start to hibernate. A hedgehog has to weigh at least 450 gm before it has a hope of winter survival. The five that I picked up when the cold weather started weighed around 250 gm. While they were living inside the house it smelled permanently like a zoo. Hedgehogs produce a lot of poo and it smells dreadful. As they had to be weighed every day to check their progress they were marked with nail varnish and so we had red, blue, green, yellow and white. I try to resist giving wild creatures names as it infers they are pets, which they most certainly are not, but it was not long before Blue became Bluebell and the others took on flower names. I had no idea what sex each one was as I had seldom seen them uncurled. They were not sick; they were simply underweight and needed fattening up. I am pleased to tell you that all five thrived.
First they were released into a large enclosed rabbit run and then later into a larger fenced off area of the garden. When they started patrolling that fence to find a way out it was obvious that they were ready to make their own way. I rolled back the fence and next day most of them had gone. I have three motion-activated infrared cameras out every night and eagerly check on the footage each morning. I will keep you posted on how this year’s tribe progress. You can also follow the progress of the hedgehogs on Connie’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/search/ top/?q=connie%20tindale%20posts.
There are also plenty of other local hedgehogs and wildlife caught on camera at the following link: