September 22, 2017

European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Hedgehog

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Like foxes, I’ve seen many more of these in urban areas than in my current rural habitat. I’d generally assumed that the local abundance of cover and lack of street lighting was to blame for my lack of recent sightings and in the area where I now live, this is probably is indeed the case, but I was rather dismayed to discover that in 2007 this familiar species of my childhood in Bristol, joined yesterday’s similarly ubiquitous species, the Common Toad, on the at risk register for flora and fauna – the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Habitat loss is a major threat for the modern urban Ms Tiggywinkle and it’s principally connected to the recent trend for tidy gardens. It often used to be the case that even the most fastidious of gardeners used to leave more unkempt areas to encourage wildlife and allow a bit of variety into their otherwise carefully managed plots. My Grandfather had an area about a quarter of the size of his more formal garden, which was fondly referred to as ‘the jungle’ and was filled with the truly interesting things, certainly from my perspective. This wild area was screened by trees and never mown, so was one of my earliest invertebrate hunting grounds. In fact long after my tree house fell into disrepair, the richness at the bottom end of the food chain and the general seclusion of this area, meant that it took some time for Grandpa to finally discover why he was suddenly seeing so many foxes. In fact, they’d dug a substantial earth under an old gnarled apple tree and raised a family without anyone noticing.

Without these wild urban areas, species like the Hedgehog, which have pretty meager requirements, have nowhere to forage or hibernate and so sadly their numbers decline pretty quickly. There is hope though. Maybe now that TV programs like Springwatch seem to be more popular than the garden makeover variety, it will raise people’s awareness about the impact of eradicating their own tiny ‘jungles’ which give a vital foothold to some of our most valuable and exciting garden visitors. As a matter of fact the sound of mating hedgehogs is certainly quite an experience. Leaving aside the old joke: “How do hedgehogs make love? Carefully” they do make an unearthly racket which sounds as though it’s coming from a much larger and infinitely fiercer animal.

So gardeners here’s a few wildlife gardening tips:

  • Why not leave your lawn a bit longer in places to attract pollinating insects like bees, beetles, moths and butterflies?
  • Why bother to strimmer-blitz all the far flung corners behind the shed or compost bins when you could leave them to their own devices and allow nature to move in?
  • Pile all the Autumn leaves up somewhere suitably salubrious and you could even have a traditional Hedgehog hibernation station.
  • Leave a sheet of corrugated iron in a quiet, sunny spot and you could be giving a home to Slow-worms.
  • Piles of pruned branches, logs or rocks in a quieter part of the garden make welcome habitats for everyone from Dunnocks to Frogs and Toads.

And remember the vast majority of this mob are pretty formidable predators, who’ll undoubtedly earn their keep farther down the food chain.

Most importantly though, once you’ve let the wild into your life, it’s vital for you to take a little time to appreciate it. Sitting quietly on a log, sipping tea and watching the birds, or taking a close up look at the insects attracted to your flowers, whether cultivated or wild,  or even just lying on the grass with your eyes closed, listening to the rustling, buzzing twittering sounds all around you, is more or less guaranteed to put a smile on your face.