I remember, late one night, perhaps forty years ago, taking a shortcut home across a disused railway line in the city. It was a very dark path and seldom used, but it cut a mile or so off our walk home. We had no torch, but the moon was bright and the skies clear enough to see our way, enough at least to show us the damaged path and the tussocks of grass over which we could have tripped.
It must have been midway along the path, right where it crossed the old rails, when I saw one of the tussocks move. There was the strangest of noises, a sort of low grunting, coming from all around and it was quite eerie. We stopped, wondering what on earth it could be… and as our eyes adjusted to the light, saw dozens and dozens of hedgehogs of all sizes, curled into tight balls around our feet and wandering up and down the old line in the moonlight.
I had never seen so many hedgehogs… or, for that matter, so many wild mammals together at once. It was a magical sight and one I have never forgotten.
It was only when I read an article on their declining numbers that I realised just how few hedgehogs I have seen over the past twenty years. Apart from the ones that lived in my old garden, I could only think of the odd one or two… and the last real ‘close encounter’ was five years ago now, when Ani met the ‘ball’ that ran away.
I know I get hedgehogs here, on the edge of the fields, but in spite of having the big glass door standing open day and night, have only glimpsed a shadowy ball in the darkness, and seen the after-effects of their presence. Where once a hedgehog sighting was a common thing, now it is a rarity.
From road deaths to habitat loss, human impact on the countryside plays a major part in the fact that hedgehog numbers have decreased so dramatically that there may be fewer than a million of the iconic little creatures left in the wild. It would be a tragedy to see ‘Mrs Tiggywinkle’ fade into memory.
However, we can help. It seems that while rural hedgehogs have suffered a rapid decline along with the hedgerows that they need, their urban counterparts are adapting to life within our garden hedges. John Bainbridge published a post last week that sets out ways in which we can make our gardens hedgehog friendly and how we can care for these beautiful if prickly, little creatures.
It doesn’t take much… and there are few things more wonderful than to watch a wild creature hunting in your garden, especially when its prey consists largely of the slugs and beetles that the gardener sees as a pest.