Map my hog
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.