Nature Notes

by Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

It was one of my top four wildlife experiences, and in my own back garden about five metres from my door.

During Lockdown I have been entertained by hedgehogs. There’s a population of six or seven individuals, and, each night, I put out supper for them and for the elderly boar badger, Seamus, who comes about once a week (peanut butter sandwiches cut into small squares, peanuts and bought-in hedgehog food). The action is captured by a trail camera with night vision but, during warm weather, I like to sit outside as daylight fades, look, listen and see at least Act 1 of the hog drama.

This particular evening had been disappointing, just two visitors with a twenty-minute break between. Hedgehogs are not social animals and avoid each other if they can, but a lavish supper is a great draw. At about 11pm I decided to go to bed. I completed a few chores then, before going upstairs, returned to the kitchen and turned on the outside light for a last check on the wildlife situation. A large hog was busy eating so I lingered to watch him.

Then, onto the lit-up grass trotted Seamus. He’s been coming for his summer suppers for nine or ten years now. He completely ignored the hog, which froze in mid-bite but did not curl up. Seamus is especially partial to the sandwiches so he rapidly hoovered them all up and turned to where the last fragment was being nibbled by hedgehog. Without a moment’s hesitation he whipped the piece from between the hog’s paws, swallowed it and started searching out and dispatching the peanuts. These were quickly sniffed out and crunched up. Finally, he detected peanuts under the poor hog’s body so nudged it a couple of times with his snout and gobbled the treats. Then, losing all patience, Seamus biffed the sitting hog with his great paw, sending it rolling a foot or so away. He then nosed out the few nuts on which the hog had been squatting, ate them and trotted off across the garden. It must have been terrifying for the hedgehog to have those great jaws scrunching away against his body and the claws that could easily rip him open clouting his prickly skin. He remained curled up for a few minutes, then uncurled and trotted off in the opposite direction.

I had my hand on the door knob ready to intervene. However, what was clear was that a well-fed badger is not interested in the labour of converting a prickly hog into dinner and that, somehow, hedgehogs – that have evolved alongside badgers for millennia – know this. These two had encountered each other before and knew each other’s priorities.