Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Saving Snuffles

There was an answerphone message to say that the hedgehog I had rescued just after Christmas (see earlier post) was due for release. He had apparently acquired a new name - Snuffles - and a lot of weight. Curious to see how the hedgehog was doing and keen to release him close to the place he was found, I took a shoe box to collect him from the Help a Hedgehog Hospital. Annie, who had cared for him for the previous three months, led me through the garden to a rabbit hutch that had been his temporary home. Snuffles, having feasted for three months, had grown to about 800g, more than twice the size that he had been when we found him, wandering around in the snow. Annie lifted him from his bed of hay and we both eyed my shoe box uncertainly, wondering whether Snuffles was in fact, too fat to fit. Snuffles, too, looked unimpressed, unfurling his football-sized body just long enough to fix his beady, blue-black eyes on us, before rolling back into a ball. I took him, squeezed rather unceremoniously into the box, back to my parent's garden, where a hedgehog house was ready for his arrival. It was wedged under a branch, so that it could not be flipped over by badgers, which would eagerly tuck into a tasty hedgehog, given half a chance. We stuffed some of Snuffle's hay into the box, to provide a familiar scent and then, I lifted the lid to let Snuffles, chuntering and grunting away to himself, slowly make his way through the narrow entrance to the safety of the hedgehog house.

That evening, as dusk fell, I staked out the hedgehog house, hoping to see Snuffles emerge and feed on the plate of dogfood that I had put out for him. I stood in the drizzle, watching a bat, the first I had seen this year, doing laps around the beech tree. I gave it an hour, but I had to get home, so I left, disappointed, without seeing Snuffles take his first steps back into the wild. There is evidence to suggest that hedgehogs kept in captivity for at least a month survive well when released, so Snuffles has every chance of living a normal, healthy life. Maybe I will catch a glimpse of him again one day, foraging in the garden. Perhaps he will bring back a mate and the garden will be filled with hoglets. But, then again, he might just disappear, to live his life out of human view, back where he belongs.

Now you do it

To make your garden hedgehog friendly:

  • never use pesticides - slug pellets and other pesticides are dangerous to hedgehogs.
  • create a garden with high biodiversity. This means having a range of different habitats and micro-habitats such as hedgerows, ponds, compost heaps, leaf litter and log piles, and a variety of different plants to attact the invertebrates that hedgehogs eat.
  • provide additional food, such as tinned or dried dog or cat food, mealworms or chicken.
  • ensure that hedgehogs are not fenced in or out of your garden. They need to roam over large areas, so leave gaps in boundary fencing to allow them to travel.
  • make sure that swimming pools and ponds do not become hedgehog death traps and that there is always a way out, such as a ramp, should a hedgehog fall in.
  • Be careful that any netting used in the garden can not trap a hedgehog.
  • check for hedgehogs before strimming, mowing, lighting a bonfire etc.
  • provide either a purpose-built hedgehog house or make your own.