Nature Notes

Hotchi Witchi. An Apology.

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Near-dark, and I am trying to point out a small, still hedgehog under a hedge by the Scout hut to my son. He only sees it when it trots off, a conker on fast little legs. He is astonished I spotted it.

But I have a special eye for hedgehogs. And it is because I have an apology to make, a confession to absolve: a dirty little secret.

You see, years ago, I mistook a hedgehog for a football. One late summer night with friends, in the dusk-near-dark, barefoot and in a dress, I ran from the touchline that ran parallel with a badgers’ boundary, pitted at intervals with blackberry-filled latrines, and swung a kick at the ball. Only, it wasn’t. I yelped in surprise and pain as the inside of my right foot connected with an immovable pin cushion as my short-sighted, low-light vision clocked the actual ball. Over-wintered itself under a hedge, and partially-deflated, it had long lost its white leather gleam.

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Horrified, we sat in solemn vigil around the bristling, sizable ball. A full five minutes later, it unrolled, snuffed the air, stood up via a press-up in reverse and trotted off. I cried with relief.

Just three years later, driving home, a hedgehog emerged from the shadowed kerbside undercliff and I struck it unavoidably with my near side wheel, killing it. More recently, another got stuck in the cage of our live rat trap. For 40 minutes it defied efforts to free it, rolling into a defensive ball too big to fit back out. We released it unharmed eventually, only to catch a furious polecat in the same trap a week later.

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We seem to have 50 regrettable ways to kill hedgehogs, finding them dead at the bottom of cattle grids or drains, drowned in steep-sided ponds, strangled in garden netting, flattened on roads, burnt in bonfires, or mangled horribly by mowers, strimmers or tractor flails. And more sinisterly, blithely, we thank them for eating slugs by poisoning them with pellets, often in industrial quantities over our farmfields. We do not mean to harm. But we do.

Dead hedgehogs are tragedies – as well as indicators of a wider population. Now, like the moth snowstorms in car headlights of the seventies, they are rarer: declining in the UK at the same rate as tigers globally – around 5% a year.

So, I am good at spotting hedgehogs; I have ground to make up. This summer, I rescued two from the road, weighing their heavy prickliness in my two hands with due reverence for these most marvellous and ancient of beasts. The lines of Philip Larkin’s poem The Mower, ran through my head: ‘we should be careful of each other, we should be kind while there is still time.’

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4 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. I saw this piece in the NWN a few weeks back. I used it to line the bottom of the hedgehog cages. As we had a large pile of NWN papers and we have a lot of hedgehog cages to line I saw it fairly frequently afterwards but I hadn’t actually sat down and read it until today.

    We get a large number of hedgehogs in to the rescue that have been caught in traps, lethal snap traps, bait boxes and so called humane traps. In almost every case the animal is injured or traumatised. I was getting so fed up with seeing this that I contacted Natural England to ask about laws regarding the use of rat traps and their answer made it clear that you and many other people are breaking the law.

    Rat traps of all types MUST be placed where they cannot trap anything other than the intended target. This means they need to be well off the floor, on a rat run where no bird can drop in and no mammal can climb up to it or walk into it.

    From YouGov web site [1]

    You can be fined or imprisoned if you cause unnecessary harm to any animal.

    You must protect other animals from traps or poison you put down for pests by:
    > placing lethal traps under cover or so that other animals and birds aren’t caught
    > preventing wildlife from eating poison you’ve put down

    I would add that traps need to be on a pile of bricks at least a foot off the ground. Baby hedgehogs wander into bait boxes as they are dark, dry, and sheltered. They will go for food left in other traps too. Anything left on the ground is easily accessible by other small animals.

    We trialled this for the Penny Post last year as pest controllers seem to think hedgehogs couldn’t or wouldn’t go into bait boxes. They can and do, the video [2] proves it. The snap traps chop off noses and paws. The ‘humane’ traps, if not checked daily cause starvation and dehydration.

    We have had instances of people buying the granules and sprinkling them all over the lawn, Illegal! It is also illegal to leave bait in traps when there is no rat infestation. One rat is not an infestation. Once the problem is cleared, the poison must be removed. All carcasses must be traced and cleared away regularly to prevent secondary poisoning. A study of hedgehog carcasses at Bristol University [3] found most had rat poison present to one degree or another.

    1. https://www.gov.uk/pest-control-on-your-property
    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iiYF4_kiTc
    3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bristol/8223757.stm

    Gill Lucraft
    Founder/Manager
    Hedgehog Bottom
    http://www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk

    • Thank you very much Gill, for taking the time to reply. I have put it up on the site so that I hope it helps and alerts others. It is very thorough, clear and extremely useful. In my article, when describing our use of the live rat trap, I used the words ‘more recently’. In context of the article, ‘more recently’ was fifteen years ago. We have not used it since. I do not like using traps at all and would never use poison (we have four species of owl living around us as well as kites, buzzards and all other wildlife that suffers secondary poisoning).

      For the purpose of this article I continued to use ‘we’ to implicate us all as humans – I personally do none of these things, am aware and extremely careful to do nothing to inadvertently (or otherwise) harm wildlife. I have never, ever used slug pellets for example.

      I thought long and hard about writing this piece (over several years in fact). My reason for doing so and indeed my reason for using the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ was to bring attention to how ‘we’ as a species do so much harm often without knowing it, sometimes thoughtlessly and often ignorantly. My reason for doing so now was to highlight the very serious peril our hedgehogs are in.

      Thank you again for your deep concern and action. And on behalf of all ‘us’, thank you for the invaluable hard work, dedication and care you have shown in your work over many years, rescuing and rehabilitating hedgehogs. It is very much admired and appreciated.

      Nicola.

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