The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday

Meet some very prickly characters

Jane Dalton helps out at a hedgehog hospital and comes face to snout with a baby hog for the first time


Atiny hairy snout, exquisitel­y formed with a black button nose and beady eyes, scents my hand; tiny feet patter up my arm. I need to keep retrieving the creature to save him from falling off, but I consider myself honoured. Having a real-life hedgehog in your hand for the first time is a pretty amazing feeling. At only six weeks old, Tyrion – named after a character in Game of Thrones – is as curious as a kitten, and just as lively. At this age, his prickles don’t hurt me one bit, and nor am I worried about catching fleas. The commonly held idea that hedgehogs are nearly all infested with them is a myth, says TrevorWeek­s, founder of the wildlife hospital, where we are handling the creatures. Rachel Wilkinson, eight, and her sister Zoe, seven, giggle as Tyrion wriggles into my armpit. We are at the hospital, run by the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service, to learn about the animals. They have plenty of experience to share. “Between now and Christmas, the number of hedgehogs arriving steadily rises, peaking at about 130, because the evening rush hour overlaps with the sunset, so more animals become road casualties,” saysWeeks. Other hazards include gardeners with strimmers and forks; antifreeze and chemicals in garages; litter; pesticides, and even well-intentione­d people leaving out bread and milk. This is a complete no-no because it creates digestive problems. Special hedgehog food, as well as cat or dog food, is much better. Space is also crucial: hogs roam up to 12 gardens at night, but they are also sociable, and need other hedgehogs in the vicinity with which to breed and interact. Nobody knows exactly what Britain’s hedgehog population is but what’s certain is that it’s declining: in just over 20 years it is estimated to have fallen from 1.5 million to less than a million. The good news is, we can help. Putting out specialist food and installing a hedgehog home in your garden is a good idea. “The key advice to remember is that hedgehogs should never be outdoors during the daytime,” says Weeks. “If you see one repeatedly come out, there’s a problem. You won’t cause any problems picking one up.” Finally we get to hold fully grown hogs. There is an intake of breath as Rachel and Zoe pick one up. “They are bigger than I thought,” says Rachel. They are also warm, and as you put your hands around their sides, there’s no pretending you don’t feel the spikes, but it’s perfectly bearable. “Children are generally more confident than adults at picking them up,” saysWeeks. “The world would be a poorer place without them,” he adds. “Everything needs looking after – humans, wildlife, pets – but hedgehogs are among Britain’s best loved animals, and are declining and need help.” And the children’s verdict? “It was really cool,” says Rachel, 8. There can be no higher compliment.

 ??  ?? Hedgehog heaven: Jane gets to grips with six-week-old Tyrion at the East Sussex wildlife hospital
Hedgehog heaven: Jane gets to grips with six-week-old Tyrion at the East Sussex wildlife hospital
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