Wildlife Column: Gardener’s friend, the hedgehog

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I recently spotted a youngish hedgehog quietly ambling down our lane at Norton. Shortly afterwards it was clear that we had company in the garden and this was in the form of a good-sized adult hog. This is one of our most popular small mammals but a species which has suffered a bit in recent years; road casualties compounding problems of habitat loss. I wonder though if the hedgehog is making a bit of a comeback – or is this just in Norton.

The name ‘hedgehog’ combines its tendency to favour hedgerow habitats in the traditional farming landscape of old England and, unfortunately, its value amongst poorer common people as a supplement to their diet. According to a book called ‘The Wild Foods of Great Britain’ written by L Cameron in 1917 ‘... its flesh is white, of a delicate flavour, faintly gamey, with a suggestion of pork about it’. Cameron goes on to recommend two ways of cooking your hedgehog, one being in a casserole, and the other baked in a ball of clay. The latter included roasting in wood ashes or on a peat fire. Apparently, ‘... thin bread-and-butter and watercress go well with hedgehog’. He also explains how to catch and prepare the hedgehog before cooking, and that they are best in the autumn when they have fattened up for the winter ahead ... but let’s not go there! Fortunately today, country folk no longer include erinaceous europaeus on the menu. Nowadays, we value the humble hedgehog as a useful ally in the garden, a consumer of slugs and snails, and as a familiar member of local fauna to be celebrated and enjoyed.

Happy munching on birds’ eggs and insects

Of course, hedgehogs themselves do not discriminate and they are equally happy munching on birds’ eggs and they are on insects and molluscs. This has led to a controversial programme to rid Scottish Islands of introduced hedgehogs because they decimated the ground-nesting indigenous birds. Recent programmes have involved capture and release onto the mainland. My own hedgehogs seem to have come back of their own accord. The first good sign was last autumn. This year they are back and coming down the path and onto the patio in full daylight. I am hoping bribery with dog-food will hold their attention!