Map my hog

Devon Life - - Walk -

Iwas for­tu­nate enough to at­tend the Devon Tourism Awards this win­ter. Seaton Wet­lands had been short­listed for an award in the small at­trac­tion cat­e­gory and while I scratched my head at how 300 acres of pub­lic ac­cess na­ture re­serve was deemed small, the team were de­lighted to pick up the bronze medal – not bad for a tourist at­trac­tion with no en­try fee!

I sat be­side a fas­ci­nat­ing chap from South Devon, Stephen Page, who listed among his pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ment: un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher. Of course, our con­ver­sa­tion fo­cused on Devon’s fab­u­lous wildlife, both above and be­neath the waves, and I was amazed to learn that Stephen was the first guy to be com­mis­sioned to dive along­side a trawl­ing scal­lop dredge to record first-hand the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by this form of fish­ing.

While we chat­ted all things na­ture, Stephen com­mented on his last sight­ing of a hedge­hog be­ing some three years ago just out­side Kings­bridge. It was a con­cern I was all too able to share – the last three-di­men­sional, walk­ing, snuf­fling hedge­hog I have seen was about two years ago, down my street in Ex­eter.

Sadly, most sight­ings of these amaz­ing lit­tle mam­mals are con­fined to pan­cake-like road­kill, as the slow mov­ing hogs get knocked by traf­fic and their spiny ar­moury is in­suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion against our fast-mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

How­ever, traf­fic col­li­sions are only one fac­tor act­ing against the in­ter­ests of hedge­hogs, but it is an ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor the dwin­dling pop­u­la­tion can ill af­ford.

The Mam­mal So­ci­ety has launched an on­line re­source in the form of its Mam­mal Map­per to garner sight­ings of all mam­mals across the coun­try, util­is­ing what has be­come known as “ci­ti­zen science” to com­pile data for our furry friends.

Now is a great time to get on­line and check out the app, fa­mil­iarise your­self with its func­tion so that, come spring you are primed and ready to start sub­mit­ting records of Devon mam­mals! More de­tails can be found here: mam­mal.org.uk/ vol­un­teer­ing/mam­mal-map­per/

At this time of year hedge­hogs will be curled in a tight ball, within a rather scruffy large nest of leaves formed be­neath bushes and scrub. Here they snooze, sub­sist­ing off fat re­serves stored un­der the skin and laid down in the glut sea­sons of fruit­ful­ness: late sum­mer and early au­tumn.

Un­like most other mam­mals, hedge­hogs are true hi­ber­na­tors. They go be­yond mere deep sleep and be­come to­tally tor­pid, with heart rate slow­ing and body tem­per­a­ture fall­ing to the am­bi­ent. The roughly con­structed nests are there­fore cru­cial to their sur­vival as they of­fer pro­tec­tion from preda­tors and sharp drops in tem­per­a­ture dur­ing deep frosts or snow.

They will of­ten move nest at least once through the win­ter, with ac­tiv­ity com­ing af­ter a pe­riod of body sys­tem warm-up which takes sev­eral hours, fu­elled by that thick body fat, be­fore mus­cles and brain can func­tion suf­fi­ciently for them to wan­der off to a new lo­ca­tion.

Hedge­hogs are def­i­nitely the gar­den­ers’ friend and so I am of­ten asked what peo­ple can best do to help them in their gar­den. Holes placed at ground level through walls or fence-lines be­tween gar­dens make it far eas­ier for them to move around the place. They re­ally love to eat slugs and snails, hence their ben­e­fit to the gar­dener, so don’t use slug pel­lets to pro­tect your plants. The tox­i­c­ity of these is in­gested by hedge­hogs and ends up killing the nat­u­ral pest con­trollers, mak­ing your prob­lem much worse

Fi­nally, if you are go­ing to feed hedge­hogs, please re­sist of­fer­ing bread and milk. These in­sec­ti­vores will get bloated and un­com­fort­able on that diet, so of­fer­ing wet cat food, or bet­ter still dried meal­worms or other in­ver­te­brate bird food, is a far bet­ter op­tion.

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