My Hedgehog Story

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The process of making a tassel, in action.

I stumbled upon this website as I was researching the habits of newly weaned hedgehog babies, or are they called piglets? (That's the first question). So I thought I would share my hedgehog experiences with anyone who cares to read them.

My interest was aroused in these remarkable little creatures some three years ago. A couple of years previously I had moved into a newly constructed, high density development on the South Coast of England. The houses were regulation boxes with postage stamp gardens surrounded by six foot high wooden fencing. One evening whilst gazing out of my bedroom window on a bright moonlit night I spotted what at first I thought was another of the local cat population using my garden as a toilet. Luckily, before I started chucking shoes and furniture at it, I realised it was in fact a hedgehog.

That was the one and only sighting, until last year, early on a bright sunny morning in July; I looked up from my breakfast table and to my utmost surprise saw my little friend again. It was busy collecting dried leaves and chunks of grass, ripped out of the lawn, and scurrying off with them in its mouth to an area of overgrown shrubbery at the bottom of the garden. This was in bright sunlight – I thought they were supposed to be nocturnal! All this lasted for at least an hour before the activity stopped. When all was quiet I tiptoed out and found what appeared to be a nest, about the size of a football, of neatly intertwined leaves and grass. I felt privileged that a wild creature had chosen to share my little patch of Sussex.

This whole experience whetted my appetite and aroused my curiosity. Firstly, how on earth did it get there in the first place? I checked all the fencing and there were no gaps big enough to crawl under so unless the thing can fly it must have built a tunnel. Couldn't find one of those either, so it is a lot thinner than it looks or it can unlock gates!

During my research I discovered a fabulous charity called St Tiggywinkles. They are dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured hedgehogs. Their founder Les Stocker has written a book called The Complete Hedgehog which is an absolute mine of useful hedgehog information. Sadly now out of print, I managed to obtain a second-hand copy off the internet for a quid. The book has proved to be most useful in my understanding and love of these endearing little creatures.

Now knowing where to look, my sightings of my little friend became more frequent, this no doubt greatly assisted by the fact that I had begun to leave out a tempting supply of the finest food the local pet shop could supply. Incidentally, it should be mentioned at this stage that bread and milk is possibly one of the worst things well meaning feeders should leave out. It upsets the hedgehog digestive system and could even lead to premature death, which, when your life expectancy is as short as a hedgehog's, is the last thing you need. Just one of the hundreds of 'old wives' tales' prevalent around hedgehogs. If you can't get custom produced hedgehog food, then tinned puppy or cat food is considered satisfactory, although the fishy stuff is rumoured to be not so good to the gourmet hog.

As summer turned to winter the sightings became less frequent and often the food was left untouched. When it was eaten, I was convinced it was due to one of the neighbourhood cats whose loving owners had kicked it out at night so as they could defecate in my garden. I assumed it had gone off somewhere to hibernate, under next door's shed was favourite.

During the winter, and months after my last sighting, I had a rare gardening fervour. I thought I would clear out that bit of rough down at the bottom of the garden (less than 30 feet from the back door). I was removing the old debris and dead foliage that had accumulated, luckily with my hands, when I touched something sharp and prickly in amongst some rotting compost. My heart almost stopped when I realised what I had done. I'd disturbed my hibernating hedgehog in the dead of winter. I carefully replaced all the old compost but was very worried that I had ruined whatever waterproofing and heat saving properties there might have been. In a panic I constructed a sort of tent over the site using a strong plastic sheet and just hoped and prayed that it would survive.

I had to wait until spring and finally my anguished wait was over, the hog appeared at the feeding bowl as it had done before. What a relief! Normal service had been resumed with me leaving out food and watching the garden through binoculars.

During spring I noticed another nest in the base of a bamboo plant that has now matured in the garden. Apparently this is normal behaviour, a hedgehog will construct a summer and winter house. The summer one being less durable and cooler, just as we have a winter and summer duvet.

I digress, back to my hog story. This is all leading to my original quest for more hedgehog information, and this is why... Last week we had guests around for dinner and we were sitting in the garden enjoying a few sundowners. It was about hog feeding time so I filled up the bowl and left it at the bottom of the garden as usual. Moments later, to our absolute joy, out of the bushes stepped not just one, but two hedgehogs. The whole group were suitably overjoyed but I knew neither were my usual resident, these were two youngsters!

That's why I was researching the subject. I want to know how the hedgehog family behaves. From what I have gained so far, it would appear that the young are left to their own devices soon after they are weaned. The parents then return to their solitary existence only to seek company when it's time to mate again.

I have constructed a hedgehog house along the lines of plans shown in Les Stocker's book, and one of the babies has taken up instant residence. Whether it stays or not only time will tell. The adult, I still don't know whether it's male or female, continues to visit every night; I think he/she is still in residence in the 'summer home'. Another complication for my small brain is, there is now another adult that I have spotted in the garden. A couple of nights ago they were sharing the same bowl of food. Could this be the partner or just a random visitor? It seems physically smaller than the original hog so is it the female? I would have thought that the original hedgehog was the female and the babies have stayed with her. Is that how it happens?

This whole experience has given, and continues to give, my partner and I immense pleasure. To see these tiny wild creatures sharing our tiny bit of space in Sussex surviving the untold dangers of the modern world against all the odds is an absolute joy.

This brings me to a really serious point. I have read many entries on this site and elsewhere from people proud to boast that they have a hedgehog as a pet in captivity. These are almost certainly creatures that have been captured in the wild and are now trapped in a strange and completely unnatural environment. Kept as play things and 'cared' for by complete amateurs. What would these people say if they were to be plucked from their homes and imprisoned for the rest of their natural life? My advice to them is: get a life for yourselves rather than ruin one that belongs to a fellow creature far more deserving than you.

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