Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

In this time of distress and bewilderment it’s satisfying to be able to tell you something good. Whether it’s due to the mild winter or, more likely, to the quiet, traffic-free environment we now live in, hedgehogs are doing well! At least, this is the case in my Ben Rhydding garden.

From 2007 to 2010 I studied the hedgehogs that then visited our garden through the summer months.This was prompted by reading Pat Morris’s The New Hedgehog Book, in which he suggests that if you see one hog in your garden you probably have several. I determined to discover if this was true by marking each one I saw with a Tippex spot. This is relatively easy as hedgehogs don’t often run away, they crouch or curl up so can be marked without too much effort for the marker or distress for the animal.

I rapidly became entranced by these sturdy little animals. Watching from the garden room window with the security light to illuminate the patch of lawn where I’d laid out little heaps of food – mainly peanuts, peanut butter sandwiches cut small and food scraps, I quickly became interested in them as individuals with different characters. This, of course, required a complex system of naming each animal caught, marking it with a unique pattern of dabs and recording all the movements and interactions I observed. It became clear that they do, indeed, have different characteristics – some being aggressive, barging off any animal that dared to feed in “its own” area - others meek – peaceably feeding close to others. It was all very exciting.

Then the badgers arrived. This was thrilling for me – but, alas, came at a cost. Badgers are the only predators hedgehogs have (apart for humans with their cars and slug pellets). My hedgehog population wisely withdrew and, I hope, lived to forage elsewhere, and the badger study started. However, something happened to the main clan and for the last four years only one male has been visiting. He must be over 10 years old and, like many of us, is very fixed in his habits. Last year my trail camera revealed that hedgehogs were visiting again – carefully choosing times before and after Seamus’s visit. Then, last year, the camera caught Seamus and a hog peacefully feeding about 6 feet apart. Clearly our elderly badger wasn’t going to the trouble of opening a hedgehog when peanut butter sandwiches were readily available.

Now, this year, hedgehogs have returned in good numbers. Five were feeding in the garden simultaneously on May 6th. I’m not lithe enough to mark them but I’m already recording their behaviour.