According to The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the British hedgehog population is in serious decline. May 6th 2019 marks the beginning of Hedgehog Awareness Week, which aims to draw attention to the problems hedgehogs face and what we can do to help. Pam Ayres’s poem ‘The Last Hedgehog’, written to celebrate Hedgehog Awareness Week, addresses the plight that hedgehogs face. Here Pam explains what she loves about these prickly but cute little creatures and shares some top tips for creating a more hedgehog-friendly garden.
Tips to make your garden more hedgehog friendly
- Make sure your garden has a 5in (13cm) square gap in boundary fences or walls. They travel about a mile each night so need access to plenty of gardens!
- Keep a corner of your garden wild to offer shelter, protection and natural food.
- Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets in your garden. These can harm hedgehogs and damage their food chain.
- Provide a shallow dish of fresh water and food such as meat-based pet food for hedgehogs, especially during long dry spells.
- Check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs and other wildlife before strimming or mowing.
- Dispose of litter responsibly. It can cause injury or starvation if they get trapped in discarded rubbish.
- Bonfires offer a tempting home for a hedgehog, collected materials should be re-sited just before the fire is to be lit and the pile should be checked very carefully for wildlife and pets in need of rescue before lighting.
I was brought up in rural Berkshire but as a child saw surprisingly few hedgehogs. It was only when I started work that I really began to think about them. My daily route took me past Hatford Warren, a large local wood, where every morning the road was littered with dead hedgehogs, run over in the night. It was awful to see. I remember wishing that people could be warned to slow down on that particular bit of road, but nothing was ever done.
The next time I remember seeing a hedgehog close up, was after I married and had two little children. There was a gate in our garden and for some reason a loop of string hung down from the bottom bar, almost touching the path. One morning I found a hedgehog dead in the loop of string. It had walked into it like a noose and remained there until it died. Its little waving feet had worn bare patches on the ground below. If only I had noticed the string, cut it off, taken it away.
When I first heard about wildlife rescue centres I was estatic. Finally there was somewhere to take a wounded animal where people would care. I met Les Stocker MBE, the great pioneer who went on to found Tiggywinkles, the first ever hospital for wild animals in 1983. His garden was filled with cage upon cage of needy hedgehogs. Unlike me, who only stood around wishing things were different, Les had actually gone out and done something.
I heard about my own local wildlife rescue centre, Oak & Furrows, founded by the wonderful Serena Stevens in memory of her daughter Millie. I became a supporter, then a patron, and there I saw the hundreds of hedgehogs brought in every year. I know that hardly anyone means to harm hedgehogs. Like me, with that deadly noose of string left hanging from my gate, often we just don’t think. In this little book I am asking if you will bear them in mind. Please, if you don’t already, think hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are easy to help. A little food left out at night and some water during hot dry periods mean the stark difference between life and death. A simple pile of logs and clippings in a quiet corner make a comfortable home. So many of these things are small in themselves but combine to be a help of mighty proportions to our dwindling population of hedgehogs.
My little poem deals with their plight, and all of the fates I describe in it are met with on a regular basis. You are allowed to laugh at it, but the message is serious. This book highlights many easy ways to help hedgehogs recover from their disastrous decline, so that perhaps they could return to their traditional place in our gardens and hedgerows.
I like hedgehogs. I like them for their wary black eyes and damp, turned-up noses. There is something sweet and homely about the rounded prickly body and the way it can suddenly lift up and scuttle off on surprisingly long legs. Their presence enriches my garden. I love to see them. I would love my grandchildren to see them.
And your grandchildren.
With your help there might never be a Last Hedgehog.
This is an extract taken from The Last Hedgehog by Pam Ayres.