Tag Archives: hedgehogs

Hedgehog romance

How do hedgehogs mate? Carefully, as the old joke goes. Last night I didn’t quite get to witness mating, but did get to watch hedgehog courtship at close quarters.

Just before I went to bed last night, I went down to the patio door to see if there were any hedgehogs about. It was still quite light, so I wasn’t expecting one, but there, snuffling round just the other side of the door, was a small hedgehog (trying to hoover up any mealworms Reproachful Robin had dropped from the feeder attached to the door).

Please to see one so close (separated only by the doubleglazing), I glanced round the garden and saw another, larger hedgehog approaching. He clearly was not after the mealworms.

What ensued was a protracted courtship. He circled her, trying to get her, occasionally rubbing the side of his snout against the ground (do they have scent glands there?). She, equally determined, snorted regularly and turned round on the spot to make sure he never got behind her.

Occasionally he would change direction, and try another angle of approach. When she moved away from the door, so her back was no longer protected by it, I thought she might be softening towards him. But the circuits continued. From time to time she would seem to get annoyed with him, and charge him. But then the dance continued.

It was fantastic seeing such an intimate moment at such close quarters. But after 45 minutes of this, tiredness won and I headed up to bed. So I’ve no idea how it ended. Let’s hope we have little hoglets visiting the garden soon!



Courting hedgehogs

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a hedgehog in my garden. I know they’re there – they eat the food we put out for them each night. But with the long days and lots of travelling recently, I just haven’t seen them. So I was delighted last night when, just before going to bed I had one last look into the garden. Not only was there a hedgehog; there were two!

One was quite big, and the other one much smaller. At first Dr C thought they were both interested in the food, which would be unusual as they don’t tend to like sharing food bowls – they’re not the most sociable of animals. But it soon became clear at least one of the hedgehogs had other things on his mind. The old joke sprang to mind: How do hedgehogs mate? Carefully!

The bigger one (the male) circled the smaller, female, hedgehog for quite a while. She was careful not to let him get behind her – I’m not sure she fancied him, even though he looked very handsome to me. This continued for a while, until a helicopter flew over head and the female decided she’d had enough, and scurried off. The male soon followed, so I don’t know if he did eventually manage to seduce her, or whether she gave him the slip.

Anyway, it was lovely to see hedgehogs again. I did try to capture some footage on my phone, but it was too dark. So you’ll just have to imagine it instead. Hopefully we’ll see some hoglets in due course (although whether this particular couple will have young, I don’t know…) My one consolation for the nights getting longer is it becomes easier to watch the hedgehogs.

Making the garden safe for hedgehogs

One of our top priority wildlife garden tasks for March was making it safe for hedgehogs. It’s mostly pretty safe, with no slug pellets or trailing nets, and our tiny pond has a hedgehog escape route.  But there was still one area that needed improvement.

My study is lower than the rest of the house, and there’s a small area of gravel outside it, surrounded on three sides by walls, with steep steps up to the rest of the garden. There’s a gate at the top of the steps, but the wood had rotted so the latch no longer held it shut.
We know that hedgehogs can get trapped in that area. One of Fat Cat’s rare moments of Lassie-like heroism was when she alerted us one morning that there was a hedgehog down there, unable to climb the steps. That hedgehog was fortunate, as it wasn’t stuck for too long, and was able to scurry away when carried up the steps. But we can’t rely on every hog being so lucky.

So, Dr C has repaired the latch, and we’ve installed a mini fence to hopefully stop daredevil hedgehogs falling down from the garden above. The hedgehogs are visiting our garden every night. At least I know they are safe there now.

Hedgehog-proofed area of the garden
Hedgehog-proofed area of the garden
Mini fence to stop hedgehogs falling down from the garden above
Mini fence to stop hedgehogs falling down from the garden above

Victory in the Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards!

I have an award-winning garden! I never thought I’d end up saying that, and anyone who could see it now would be equally surprised. But it’s true – the garden been awarded a Gold Award in the inaugral Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards. Not only that: it came top in the small private garden category. I officially have the best small private wildlife garden in Surrey!

Suffice to say, the award is not for the decorative appeal of the borders, or the precision neatness of the lawn. Nor is it for the volume of fruit and veg I get from the garden (which is just as well, as the wildlife seems to munch most of that before I can get hold of it). To look at, my garden’s nothing special; small and scruffy. But it does have quite a lot of wildlife-friendly features, which in turn means there’s also quite a lot of wildlife.

Today I got an early Christmas present, as Dawn Fielding from Surrey Wildlife Trust dropped round my prize – a signed book on a Surrey garden’s natural history, a wildlife gardening information pack, some notecards and a calendar. I’m looking forward to reading/using it all – the wildlife gardening information pack looks like it’s got some good new ideas to try out, and the book looks inspiring.

My prize for winning the Surrey Wildlife Garden award for best small private garden
My prize for winning the Surrey Wildlife Garden award for best small private garden

Of course, to me the most exciting prize from having a wildlife-friendly garden is seeing the wildlife enjoy it. It was so satisfying when we found the first frog in our pond, just weeks after we created it. And one of my most memorable wildlife experiences of this year was when we were sitting out in the garden, and a hedgehog walked right past our toes, unaware or unconcerned by our presence. Having hoglets born in the hedgehog house we made was fantastic – thinking that our efforts could help these creatures really gives me a buzz.

Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)
Hoglet C (Ericnaceous)

I think the purpose of the awards was to encourage people to think about how they can make their gardens more wildlife-friendly. Hopefully our garden shows that you don’t need a big garden to make a difference, and you certainly don’t need green fingers, or to put in lots of time each week.

It also spurs me on to think about next year – what can we do to make the garden even more wildlife friendly? Well, I have a few ideas, and my prize will help me identify a few more. I feel a new challenge coming on… I’m secretly very competitive, so intend to give holding onto my crown my best shot. Why not take me on, if you live in Surrey? The awards process will open in April next year, so there’s plenty of time for a few wildlife-friendly gardening projects before then… The Wild About Gardens website has lots of ideas.

Hedgehogs in central London

While the numbers of many wild animal species have declined dramatically with increasing urbanisation, others have managed to adapt and survive, or even thrive, in these relatively new environments. Think of house mice, easily seen even in rush hour in underground tunnels. Or rats, feral pigeons and foxes. Suburban gardens seem to quite suit hedgehogs, as long as they can move between them, and the gardens aren’t too sterile in their perfection. But how do they get on in truly urban areas?

Not very well, so it seems. I heard a very interesting talk on hedgehogs in central London, by Nigel Reeve, at the Surrey Mammal Group meeting a couple of weeks ago. Central London is blessed with a number of large parks (including Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’ Park) and numerous smaller garden oases in squares dotted around the city. But only one of those green spaces, Regent’s Park, is known to be home to hedgehogs. Regent’s Park contains a mix of formal gardens, sports pitches, amenity grassland and wilder areas, covering 166 hectares in total.

The Royal Parks, supported by a generous anonymous donor, have been conducting indepth research into this isolated population, to see what can be learnt to help manage the park better for hedgehogs.

With the help of around 70 trained volunteers,  using a mix of spotlighting, footprint tunnels, camera traps, radiotracking and GPS tracking, they have now established that there are around 50 hedgehogs living in the park. This doesn’t seem too bad, at first glance. But it gives a hedgehog density much lower than that reported in other studies in the UK. And that population are completely cut off from any other hedgehogs – there’s no connectivity with parks and gardens further out of London, like Hampstead Heath, where there are hedgehogs. This makes the Regent’s Park population very vulnerable.

In an entirely unscientific comparison, to put it into perspective, Regent’s Park contains 50 hedgehogs in 166 hectares. My garden, which is 0.005 hectares (I know, I’m practically landed gentry!), was used by at least 6 different adult and 3 young hedgehogs in 2011.

The research team got a wealth of information from their study. The points that stood out for me were:

  • The hedgehogs they found were good weights (heavy for the time of year compared to hedgehogs found in other studies)
  • The hedgehogs were mostly found by the lake, formal gardens and zoo carpark
  • The radiotracking found that nests were mostly in the ‘informal shrubbery’, which includes areas of bramble and scrub
  • Half of hedgehogs used more than one nest in a single week
  • Short grass is a very important foraging habitat for them
  • Hedgehogs on average moved around 600-900m a night

Having got all this data, they have fed it back to the park staff, along with recommendations on how to encourage the fragile hedgehog population. They’ve also been doing work with the local community to raise awareness of hedgehogs, to try to protect this vulnerable population. Further research is happening this year.

You can read more about the study on the Royal Parks website.

Too darn hot (or how to help wildlife in a heatwave)

Firstly, an apology for my non-UK readers: this is a post about the weather, specifically, me moaning because it's a temperature that for many of you is perfectly normal. I can't help it, I'm English.

It’s too darn hot. I commute to London four days a week. It’s really not been fun lately – our train isn’t air conditioned, and there seems to be no air at all coming in through the windows. Everyone is sweaty – clothes cling, and everybody politely ignores the visible damp patches on shirts, as we’re all in the same position. But I get off lightly – I don’t have to enter the depths of hell that is the underground network at this time of year, nor wedge myself into a mobile greenhouse (otherwise known as a bus).

And night is little better. Yesterday evening it was 27 degrees C when I wanted to go to bed. I’m not made for extremes of heat or cold – give me 21 degrees C and sunshine, and I’m happy. Anything too far either side of that and I’m miserable.

But I am very lucky – I can carry a bottle of water with me, and my food supply is as easily accessible as ever. Spare a thought  for our wildlife, who aren’t as lucky. Here’s some easy things you can do to help your wild neighbours during a heatwave:

  • Keep a bird bath topped up with clean water
  • Don’t forget about creatures who can’t fly – if you don’t have an accessible pond with shallow sloping sides, put out a dish of fresh water on the ground each day and night
  • If you don’t have a pond, why not create one – it’s one of the best things you can do to encourage wildlife in your garden. It needn’t be big – our mini pond gets used by lots of wildlife
  • Don’t forget to feed the birds and hedgehogs – it can be particularly hard for hedgehogs and blackbirds to find food when it’s been hot and dry for a long while, so leave out some cat food or mealworms for them
  • Water your garden plants when it’s cool (preferably with water from a water butt) to keep your garden a green oasis for wildlife
  • Build a log pile – this will provide damp shady places for insects, amphibians and mammals to keep cool during the day
  • Plant a tree or two in your garden to create some shade, if you don’t have some already (although a heatwave isn’t a great time to start planting trees – you might want to wait until the autumn / winter for this one)

You can find loads of useful wildlife gardening advice and practical instructions from the RSPB Make a Home for Wildlife site.

Do you have any other tips for helping wildlife through a heatwave?

Hedgehog trailcam footage

My birthday present from Dr C has finally arrived: a trail cam! This is great timing, as the nights are so short now that I miss seeing our hedgehogs (I’m in bed before they come visiting the garden).

I’ve had it running a couple of nights so far (well, three nights really, but the memory card was too full to take any footage on the middle night – beginner’s mistake!). As suspected, most of the footage has been of hedgehogs.

It’s easy to assume that the hedgehog you see is the same each night – ‘your’ hedgehog. We learnt a few years ago that that’s not the case – when we did a proper(ish) census of hedgehog visitors to our garden there were at least 6 different adults and 3 babies. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at the footage for distinguishing features. One of them is fairly easy to recognise, as he has dark marks on his back.

Here’s him again a couple of nights earlier, with a birdsong soundtrack.

Here’s another big hedgehog.

And another hedgehog (or is it the same?)

So I don’t think I’m going to be able to tell exactly how many hedgehogs visit the garden just from the trail cam footage. But even over two nights we know there are several that pass through the garden. (The hole in our fence helps!)

I often put out cat food or mealworms for the hedgehogs, so a lot of the clips are just of them with their noses buried in the bowl. But I enjoyed these couple of ones:

A hedgehog having a shake:

And a hedgehog having a good old scratch:

Most of the clips are of hedgehogs, but we did get a couple of other nocturnal visitors:

A neighbour’s cat (we call her Spot), whose territory seems to encompass most of the town we live in.

Spot the cat

And, if you look closely at the next clip, you can just about make out a mouse (although I’m not sure what type of mouse it is).

I’m still getting used to the camera, so hopefully the quality of my footage will improve. I promise I won’t post quite so many hedgehog clips next time, I’m just quite excited with my new toy! My ambition is to get footage of baby hedgehogs visiting our garden, as we have seen them in previous years.

5 more recent posts that have made me think

  1. The Dreams and Realities of Large Carnivore Reintroductions in the UK: this post by Rewilding the UK explores the possibilities of reintroducing a large carnivore into the UK, and concludes that lynx are the most likely large predator to be able to live sustainably in the UK, without too much conflict with people. I love the idea of lynx returning to the wild here…
  2. 10 Years on, How Effective has the Hunting Act Been? More than just badgers explores the effectiveness of the Hunting Act, and suggests ways in which the legislation could be improved to reduce loopholes and protect our wildlife from cruelty. This is a timely piece, given the public commitment from some Tories to repeal the Act if they get elected.
  3. Wildlife Aid releases ‘Saving Harry’: the Wildlife Aid Foundation have released a beautiful animation and song to draw attention to the plight of hedgehogs in the UK. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0XKKpVUgTM
  4. Somerset Levels Update: Reflections on Flooding: A New Nature Blog summarises a report by the RSPB into last winter’s horrific flooding on the Somerset Levels, looking into what caused the floods (apart from lots of rain!), and how they could be prevented in the future.
  5. “This World is Not My Home” and Other T-shirts I Can’t Wear Anymore: Such Small Hands reflects on Christians’ relationship with the world, and the view that what happens in the world doesn’t really matter, as our home is in heaven. She disputes this view, concluding powerfully: “I believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and restoration in the world precisely because this world IS our home and because the Creator has given it value.” I find this post really thought-provoking, as sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling that my love for nature is trivial or ‘worldly’. This is a useful reminder for Christians that we have a responsibility for what goes on here and now.

British Animal Challenge: September and October update

It’s been a while since I wrote the last British Animal Challenge update – back in the long, hot days of August. Now the clocks are about to change, and there’s been a lot of rain, so spending time outdoors is less attractive.

I had hoped to see some new bats and cetaceans in September. Sadly I wasn’t able to identify any new bats, and didn’t see any dolphins or whales. My second attempt at seeing water shrews was unsuccessful. But I did see a stoat.

As the Scots voted ‘no’ to independence, my list hasn’t reduced, but the Jersey Toad has been a small addition.

Other animals I have seen in September and October:

In November I’m hoping to see some harvest mice, and maybe some other small mammals.

One year in the Wild South

This blog is now a year old, and this is my 100th post. I think that’s a good excuse to have a look back through the last year of posts, and pick out some of the most popular, and some of my personal favourites.

Most popular posts (highest views per month):

The ferry departing from the small harbour on Lundy
The ferry departing from the small harbour on Lundy

Lundy Island photo special – it seems I’m not the only person who thinks Lundy is a special place. I’m glad people seem to enjoy my photography.

Hedgehog and mouse pawprints
Pawprints from the mammal tunnel

Whose pawprints are these?  This post shares the results of my mammal tunnel, which allowed me to capture the pawprints of hedgehogs and mice. It also includes some footage of the nocturnal visitors to my garden.

14 05 25_2808_edited-2In which I search for otters and water shrews, and end up finding something even rarer – my account of seeing water voles in Hampshire. They’re lovely creatures…

Inquisitive seal
Inquisitive seal

Snorkelling with seals – an account of snorkelling with seals in the Isles of Scilly. Lots of photos of one of my most memorable wildlife encounters.

Deer print
Fallow(?) deer print

12 ways to find mammals – A short summary of a talk by Professor Pat Morris on how to find mammals. Not for squeamish – some of the methods involved are rather grim, but some helpful tips.

My favourite posts:

BadgerThe badger cull: an ‘evidence to policy’ perspective: This post explores the case for and against the badger cull, using the principles I apply in my day job working in health research (spoiler alert: the cull is not a good idea).

The mini pond
The mini pond

How to build a mini pond: This post describes how we created a mini pond from a wine barrel. I’ve chosen this one as garden ponds (even tiny ones) are soooo good for wildlife, and ours is continuing to thrive. Hopefully this will inspire you to create one, if you don’t already have a pond.

Harvest mouse on seedheadPhoto special: British wildlife: Some of my favourite photos – hope you enjoy them as well!

Water vole
Water vole

In search of water voles: This describes my first adventure in the British Animal Challenge, and shows some of the signs to look out for with these very rare animals.

House sparrow about to fledgeHouse sparrow chicks have fledged: It’s a pleasure getting to watch nesting birds in the intimacy of their nest boxes, and these were the first chicks to fledge from our camera nest box.

I’ve learnt a lot through both having to research my posts, and from the comments people leave. I’ve really enjoyed working on the blog – thanks to everyone who has read, liked and / or commented on my posts.  I hope you will continue to keep me company on my adventures in the Wild South.