Let’s hear it for hedge­hogs!

Prickly, small and so of­ten for­got­ten, Caro­line Quentin ex­plains why the hum­ble hedge­hog should be cher­ished

Prima (UK) - - Contents -

Caro­line Quentin on why we should cel­e­brate the small, prickly mam­mals

Have you ever been up close and per­sonal with a hedge­hog? I hadn’t, un­til very re­cently, when, while walk­ing the dogs, I came across a prickly lit­tle body that had been hit by a car. The star­tling sight of a soft flaxen un­der­belly, so vul­ner­a­ble and un­ex­pected, stopped me in my tracks. I re­alised in that mo­ment I’d never know­ingly been so near a hedge­hog be­fore.

Un­sur­pris­ing, I sup­pose, given that they are noc­tur­nal crea­tures and, let’s face it, not ex­actly ex­tro­verted. Un­like say, a stag, they don’t bel­low out across the val­ley dur­ing the mat­ing sea­son, and where a fox will cross your path, look you right in the eye, dev­il­ishly hand­some and sharp as a ra­zor – like Ge­orge Clooney in a red vel­vet smok­ing jacket – a hedge­hog is more likely to snuf­fle off into the un­der­growth or roll into a ball as you ap­proach and fend you off with his sharp lit­tle spikes.

I have to ad­mit that as a species they re­ally haven’t en­tered my con­scious­ness very much, dead or alive. I re­call, fondly, the mop-capped Mrs Tiggy-win­kle from the Beatrix Pot­ter books and I think, in my youth, there was briefly a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion film on tele­vi­sion re­mind­ing us not to light our bon­fires be­fore

check­ing them for hi­ber­nat­ing hedge­hogs. In re­cent years, I’ve been aware of Sonic the an­i­mated hedge­hog, who sports a whack­ing great blue mo­hi­can, but in all hon­esty, I have pretty much ig­nored the small spiny mam­mal.

Furze-pigs or hedgepigs, the names that coun­try peo­ple where I live in mid-devon may still use, are an in­creas­ingly rare sight. I’m aware that they eat slugs and as a keen gar­dener, I think that should be cel­e­brated, but they also eat fruit, worms, baby mice, frogs and all man­ner of in­sects. With the in­creased use of in­sec­ti­cides on crops, it seems likely that the re­duced num­ber of in­sects means there’s less grub (and fewer grubs) for hedge­hogs to munch on. Many are run over like the one I came across on my re­cent walk, but the un­ex­plained rapid de­cline in num­bers is still a bit of a mys­tery.

How do hedge­hogs mate? Care­fully, would be the ob­vi­ous an­swer given their prickly bod­ies, but ac­tu­ally, fe­males have the abil­ity to flat­ten their spines dur­ing mat­ing, pre­sum­ably to make the cou­pling more com­fort­able. That re­minds me – I must shave my legs! The ges­ta­tion pe­riod for preg­nant fe­males is around 40 days and although she may a have a lit­ter of four or five hoglets in May, June or July, only two or three will wean suc­cess­fully.

Now that I’ve found out a lit­tle about these crea­tures, I shall try to be more ob­ser­vant. I’ll drive more care­fully, too, in the hope that the next hedge­hog I en­counter will be a beau­ti­ful, bright eyed furze-pig, full of life, snuf­fling and wad­dling about the veg patch, hap­pily gorg­ing on slugs and snails!

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