Mrs. Blog, a vet for part of the week, though usually operating under a different name, had something of a celebrity hedgehog brought into her place of work last week. At least, “Bruno” had previously been fitted with a tracking device on Springwatch, which puts him in the David Attenborough league as far as I’m concerned. Bruno arrived covered in ticks, coughing and generally under the weather — a technical term that vets use, apparently, though I don’t feel comfortable about breeching Bruno’s patient confidentiality. (It would have been highly satisfying if he had suffered from hogwarts, but you can’t have everything.) After a few weeks of treatment and recuperation he had a final check-up before being released back into the wild, healthy, tick free and sporting his new radio tracker.
Mrs.Blog and Bruno
This blog has over the years adopted or sponsored the occasional duck, several rhinos and the odd tiger, and no doubt brought relief to elephants and bees everywhere by signing online petitions. (I did press Mrs. Blog to allow me to keep bees in the garden at one time but she said she would interpret such behaviour as a form of constructive dismissal.) I have, however, rather neglected the hedgehog, one of our more cuddly winsome native creatures.
I am informed that the word “hedgehog” has been in circulation since around 1450 and comprises the two words “hedge”, meaning “hedge”, and “hog”, meaning “hog”. And the thing is, although we’re all familiar with the little fellows, they may not be around that much longer unless WE DO SOMETHING! Sightings, once common in the UK’s gardens, parks and hedgerows, are becoming rare. They are now on the list of endangered species in the UK, like red squirrels or the Scottish wildcat, though I am assured by people who know stuff that this is unrelated to the introduction of hedgehog flavoured crisps a while back.
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species, a charity which has been running counts of hedgehogs for over a decade and compiled the figures, believes there are now fewer than a million of these “gardener’s friends” left in the UK, down from an estimated 2 million in the mid-1990s and 36 million in the 1950s. Alarm bells are ringing.
The most obvious reasons appear to be habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. You build new housing estates, grub out hedgerows or put a road through the middle of a hedgehog habitat, that habitat becomes smaller and smaller and hedgehog populations cease to be sustainable.
Within that fragmented habitat we often inadvertently contribute to the death toll. The website Safari UK lists “Seven Top Ways to Kill a Hedgehog” – clearly with the intention that we should become more “hedgehog aware” and strive to avoid the Seven Ways. Here they are in ascending order:
Tangled, burned, speared, strimmed, trapped, poisoned and driven over.
After which, a hedgehog would no doubt feel entitled to go into something of a decline.
Did you know that they talk? At least, their sundry noises have been interpreted by hedgicians (hedgerovians?) variously as chirping, coughing, distress, dreaming, hissing, challenge, huffing, screaming and snoring. And, apparently, “bottom burps”, about which the least said, the better.
Hedgehogs, despite Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle spin, are not all that cuddly to handle and they are rarely to be seen in true life doing the ironing. Newborn hoglets have a protective coating over their embryonic spines when they emerge, for which, according to Mrs. Blog, the mother hedgehogs are extremely grateful. Clinical examination can be challenging to say the least. In addition to their spines, hedgehogs may be infested by ticks and fleas and they can bite if frightened: lightweight leather gloves come in handy.
The veterinary nurse lays out Mrs. Blog’s special hedgehog gloves
They are also frequent visitors to the vets’ as a result of encounters with cars, pets, bonfires or over-enthusiastic gardeners or being found worse for wear and riddled with maggots. Their little piggy snuffles are a not infrequent sound in the surgery. Of course, in rolling up into a tight defensive ball, they possess a built-in protective mechanism which prevents medical assistance being readily given. To encourage the hedgehog ball to open, the vet will often find it necessary to insert a tube into the ball and pass a small amount of oxygen and anaesthetic gas through it with a view to relaxing the hedgehog and rendering it capable of being uncurled so it can be examined.
One little chap was brought to the surgery where Mrs. Blog works, having been found in the garden with “balloon syndrome”. Bacteria infecting a wound may give rise to a build up of gas under the skin. The hedgehog then “blows up” like a football with spines on. Incapable of curling up, it is visually more suited to being bounced. The vet was able to release the gas, deflate the hedgehog (and no, it didn’t fly up to the ceiling and around the room, this is serious), clean the wound and treat it with a course of antibiotics. The creature made a full recovery.
This is not, repeat not, a bowling ball
We should all worry about the fall in hedgehog numbers. Apart from their own obvious charms and valuable role in the garden ecosytem, they are a key “indicator” of the health of our environment. We can individually do something to help, especially in the way we manage our gardens. Here are just a few of the many helpful websites:
The forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are never far from this blog’s attention just now, and Mrs. Blog, who moonlights as its fashion correspondent and fulfills the description of being Scottish in quite a significant way, has expressed “views” on the recently unveiled “walking out” kit for the Games’ host nation. Her comments, carefully abridged for the purpose of this blog, may best be summarised as “negative”, with an especially unequivocal reference to the particular patterned shade of blue used for the men’s shirts and women’s dresses, and last deployed on housecoats in the 1950s. The kit has been described by its designer as “high on impact and making a real statement”. Which may well prove to be how Mrs. Blog responds at the opening ceremony.
The Scottish orienteering team discuss tactics