Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Sad Post about Hedgehogs

A marked hog (the red spines are nail varnish) we got from a rescue centre to over-winter, back in 2013.

 Some of the lists I made of sightings.

In hoggier times.

Those of you who've followed this blog for years might remember a lot of posts about hedgehogs. A few years back I realised there were hogs in my garden, so I started to monitor them using a trail cam. If I came across a hog in the flesh, I'd take it inside for weighing, sexing and marking-as-approved-by-the-BHPS. (That meant a little bit of white enamel model paint applied to the tips of the spines only.) By this method I was able to keep tabs on numbers. What I discovered was that we had over twenty individuals visiting over the course of the year. Some nights there'd be as many as seven in the garden at once.

I began to speak to neighbours about it, and found out they were seeing hogs too, and the animals were going up and down the length of the street. People would call out to me, 'We had one of your hedgehogs on our patio last night!' I leafleted houses nearby, explaining how to help hedgehogs and what kind of things were dangerous to them. For the four years I kept tabs, it was a busy, thriving hog community.

Then, at the start of 2016, I found on the lane behind my house a dead hog that had been hollowed out. Only the skin and spines remained. This individual had been on camera only four hours before, so it hadn't lain around and been eaten by scavengers over time. Whatever had killed the hog had scooped the flesh out in one go. The only predator I knew that killed hedgehogs this way was the badger. 

Over the next couple of months, hog sightings on my trail cam dropped right off, until at what's normally a peak time for numbers, July/August, just one was visiting the garden. Then in early autumn, my next door neighbour called to say there was a hedgehog sleeping in his compost heap and it might be in trouble. I went round to see, and when we turned the animal over it again had been scooped out leaving just the spines. Dismayed, he showed me where 'something big and strong' had pushed apart his wood pile in the night to gain access to the garden. I was wondering if a dog might have done it, but they don't hollow out hedgehogs that way.

Two days later another neighbour from across the road messaged me to say she'd come back from an extended stay abroad and found her garden had been taken over by badgers.

We haven't seen a single hedgehog since. Someone at the far end of the road reported a nesting one at the beginning of the year, and we all got hopeful, but it quickly disappeared. There are just no hedgehogs here any more. The entire community has vanished.

I'm aware this will not be a popular post at a time when badgers are politically vulnerable. But as an ecologist, albeit an amateur one, I have to report a true observation. I know it's mainly environmental threats that have brought hedgehog numbers to desperately low levels; however, when a species becomes so vulnerable, then even native predators can become a critical threat. 

I believe it's an issue we have to at least talk about if we're going to save hedgehogs from extinction.


TU said...

Terribly sad. We used to have a hog but haven't seen it for years, and we have local badgers so I've often wondered if they are linked. At a local rescue centre this summer, the guy was saying that hedgehogs may not survive in this country if we carry on as we are. It highlights how important it is to allow nature to be nature (rather than stealing their environment and weakening species until there aren't enough left to sustain the predators without dying out).

Re: marking hogs, I'm wondering now if there's something you can paint onto a hedgehog that badgers don't like. Like the stuff we paint onto children's fingernails to stop them chewing?

Kate said...

There are many many factors involved in the decline of hedgehogs, so it could have been environmental, poisoning, the construction of some barrier or a combination of those things. And not all badgers know how to open hedgehogs, so in some places the two live happily side by side. But I do believe it's an issue that needs acknowledging and talking about, not hushing up.

Your idea about painting made me smile. It's an interesting idea, but predators don't go near the spines, it's the meat of the hedgehog they eat.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Very sad to read that, nature is tough as anything.

Kate said...

Broke my heart. :-(