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19 Jan 2022

Wild About Wildlife: Surprise discovery in the garden

Wild About Wildlife: Surprise discovery in the garden

Hedgehogs will be relatively inactive over winter, especially when temperatures drop very low

THE day was dry and warm and we were making the most of the fine weather and catching up on any outdoor and messy jobs.

One of my co-workers was filling up the bucket of the tractor with straw from the shed and this was going to be used for the hen houses.

He suddenly called out my name and mentioned hedgehog. I immediately stopped what I was doing and rushed to the shed.

He excitedly explained that he had spotted something scurrying past his feet. He just managed to pin it against the outside wall with the shovel.

The straw shed makes a perfect hibernation place for hedgehogs. It is warm, dry and generally not disturbed too much. Also the door is kept closed and large predators are not able to get in there.

I bend down to examine our special guest and his spines were all raised in defence. There was an urgent need to get him back into the shed before he became too stressed.

Also he was using up precious reserves of fat and this energy would be very hard to replace during the winter months.

I picked up two big fistfuls of straw and attempted to pick up the hedgehog. He still managed to spike me but it was my own fault as the poor thing was terrified. I gently tried to lift him up but I was surprised at how strong his grip was.

They have small legs and feet and he was holding on for dear life with his mouth to the branch of a sapling. I carefully wriggled him and eventually he let go. He was put straight into a box with straw.

Hedgehogs have formidable protection but the chink in their amour is their soft underbelly. This has no spines and large predators like badgers and foxes will try and roll over a hedgehog to get at the softer parts.

Our hog was still quite small and was around the weight of a bag of sugar. He needs to be at least this weight, a kilogram if he is going to survive hibernating throughout the winter.

Anything less and there is a real risk that his first long sleep would be his last. He would literally die of starvation while sleeping.

He was definitely one of this year’s brood and this is a good sign as it means there is enough food on the farm to support a family of hedgehogs.

This theory was future supported by another colleague who had spotted a hedgehog wondering around the farm during the summer.

He would have spent the spring and summer fattening up on any slugs snails or worms he came across on his nightly forages.

This is another example as to how nature can help us control pests that attach our vegetables.

I put the box back in a corner of the shed where I knew it would not be moved. I loosely placed more straw in the box and the hedgehog snuggled in deeper.

I left him alone for the rest of the day and checked in later that evening. He was still there and his shallow breathing indicated that he had returned to hibernating.

On mild nights he may emerge for a few hours and this encounter with our privileged guest really made my day.
This hog did not utter one sound.

They can be very vocal and I remember years ago hearing them shorting and squealing from the flower bed at the front of my parents’ house.

This was during the mating season but generally they are quite animals.

For more, email albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or phone 089 4230502.

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