Hedgehog garden

Hedgehogs with Hugh Warwick

Roots and All Podcast Episode 17 – Hedgehogs with Hugh Warwick

UK HEDGEHOGS NEED YOU! Since 2000, UK populations of hedgehogs have declined 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas. Today’s guest, Hugh Warwick, estimates hedgehog populations have dropped by 90% or more since the second world war. Based on these horrendous figures, we can deduce if we don’t start helping them right away, these beautiful animals could be facing extinction.

That’s where we, as gardeners, come in. Hugh talks about how we can encourage hedgehogs into our gardens and how we can best look after those who decide to share our space.

We cover:

Encouraging hedgehogs into your garden
Supplemental feeding and watering
Ensuring hedgehog safety in the garden
The importance of creating a network to facilitate hedgehogs’ movements
How to identify and deal with poorly hedgehogs

About Hugh Warwick

Hugh is an ecologist and author with a particular interest in hedgehogs. He is a spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, runs the Oxfordshire campaign, HedgeOX and is a regular contributor to radio and television. He has written two books about hedgehogs … and much to the distress of his family, has plans for more!


Hugh’s Website

Books by Hugh Warwick

Hugh on Twitter: twitter.com/hedgehoghugh

Watch the video we discussed where Hugh drills through a perfectly good wall in aid of helping our hedgehogs, a worthy sacrifice!

Hedgehog Street: www.hedgehogstreet.org

British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Website: www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk

Twitter: twitter.com/hedgehogsociety

Telephone 01584 890801

Email info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk

People’s Trust for Endangered Species


State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 Report: Read here

Michael McCarthy – The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy: Buy Here

Hugh’s project the HedgeOX campaign aims to help Oxfordshire’s hedgehogs:


Facebook: facebook.com/hedgeox

Episode Transcription

Transcription – Episode 17 of the Roots and All Podcast
Hedgehogs with Hugh Warwick
Release Date 26/02/19
Episode available to listen to at www.rootsandall.co.uk/thepodcast


{SFX: Intro music plays}

[00:01] INTRO: This is the Roots and All podcast, here to help you get growing. Join us as we explore everything plant-related both indoors and out, and provide the information you need to create your perfect green environment. Presented by Sarah Wilson.

[00:21] {SFX: Intro music starts to fade out}

[00:21] SARAH: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. The astute among you will have guessed what I’m talking about today from the podcast title, yep, this episode is dedicated to hedgehogs and I’m speaking to the fabulously entertaining Hugh Warwick. Hugh is an ecologist and author with a particular interest in hedgehogs. He’s a spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, runs the Oxfordshire campaign, HedgeOX and is a regular contributor to radio and television. He has written two books about hedgehogs … and he tells me much to the distress of his family, has plans for more!

Just a word of warning, if you have young ears listening, there is an eff bomb or two in the interview. So get comfortable and prepare to enjoy Hugh’s enthusiasm and passion for hedgehogs…

[01:10] SARAH: I’ve read some alarming statistics about hedgehog populations recently, so can you give me a brief overview of the current plight of our hedgehogs and why is that they’re having such a difficult time?

[01:16] HUGH: Wow, ok, so we start with the nice and simple question and as you said we’ve got a two and a half hour slot to fill so that you should just about give us enough time to cope with the first question! Ok, so I work with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and we run a campaign called Hedgehog Street, more of which I’m sure later and as part of the work we do for Hedgehog Street, every two years we produce the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report and this particular report gives an overview of what we know of the population changes for hedgehogs. And over time, we have become more and more robust with our statistics, so to begin with it was a bit vague, you know, we think there is a 25% decline in the last 10 years type of thing. Now, for the 2018 report, we were able to say with quite a degree of certainty that urban populations had declined by 30% since the turn of the century, so that’s just 17 years worth of data and rural populations are down by about 50% but in some areas, one of the ecologists working on it described the hedgehog populations in rural landscapes as being in complete freefall. Now, that is just since the turn of the century we’ve got these sorts of figures of decline. There are some made-up figures which will appear in the press and this is an interesting thing, we don’t know how many hedgehogs there are, but what we do have is ways of monitoring population change. So it is frustrating, because what I’d like to be able to say is “there are 794,368 hedgehogs in the country and tomorrow there will be fewer”. But we don’t know that. What we do know is the percentage change. We have a number of different measures that we use, different survey techniques that we use and mammals on roads is a very unfortunate but very effective tool for assessing hedgehog population change and it’s literally counting the number of dead hedgehogs. Hedgehogs aren’t getting any cleverer, ok? They aren’t learning how to cross the roads. The reason we see fewer dead hedgehogs on the road is because there are fewer hedgehogs out there. So we’re getting these population declines measured but we have, there’s a figure of 30 million hedgehogs from the 1950s, which is completely made up. But I’ve done literally hundreds of talks around the country, I started off my talking career with the Women’s Institute, mainly because I have a strong passion for good cake and I’ve done loads of talks and talking to people much older than me is absolutely eye-opening and you get an idea of how hedgehog populations have changed in a purely anecdotal way. And what they are revealing is a very real decline. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that we have probably had a 90% or more decline in hedgehogs since the second world war. I mean it’s a guess. But it’s a guess based on anecdote, it’s a guess based on an extrapolation of data that we’ve got at the moment. And that is absolutely staggeringly and hideously disastrous. It’s the sort of thing that should have us all out on the streets campaigning, just for hedgehogs. You know, it is an absolute tragedy. Easily the most important, charismatic, beautiful and entertaining creature on the planet, the hedgehog is and they are slipping through our fingers. And they are the nation’s favourite animal. Every time you run a poll it’s the hedgehog that comes out on top, we love the hedgehog, yet we’re letting it slip away and if we let the animal we love the most slip away, all the other things we care for less are absolutely doomed.

[04:51] SARAH: So what accounts for the actual population decline being higher in rural areas, because that sounds a bit counterintuitive, you might assume that it’s the urban situation that’s squeezing population numbers down, why is the decline I rural areas higher?

[05:07] HUGH: Ok, so what you need to think of is what makes an ideal hedgehog habitat? And so for a hedgehog to have a good habitat you have to think about their name, it’s a bit cryptic their name, you consider what their favourite habitat might be, you know, the hedge. They hog the hedge, they’re an edge specialist. They evolved to occupy the niche that is known as woodland edge. Now woodland edge is not a very common ecological environment but it is a particularly rich one. And there are a whole bunch of different species, robins are edge specialists, they like the woodland edge as well. So the hedgehog has benefitted enormously from the arrival of agriculture, so I imagine if you go back to the neolithic and the beginning agriculture in this country 3 or 4000 years ago, hedgehogs probably had quite a difficult time making their way through the landscape. I was interviewed a while ago by Patrick Barkham, he was doing a piece for The Guardian, and he was terribly apologetic because he recognised I could sit down and write the piece anyway but he was interviewing me about hedgehogs and the state of hedgehog populations and he asked me when do I think peak hedgehog was and this was one of those moments when you go “you didn’t need to quote me precisely!” So I was having a little think about when were the hedgehogs probably at their most excited and it would have been at the time of the enclosures, the time when agriculture changed in the 18th and 19th centuries, when hedgerows became a really common feature of the landscape, but they were used essentially to throw the peasantry off the land. And so what I ended up being quoted in The Guardian as saying was that while John Clare, the amazing poet, was very distressed by the act of the enclosures. As John Clare was being sent mad the hedgehogs were dancing around the hedgerows singing “yippety-fuckety-do!” And it was just one of those moments when you think “you didn’t need to put that bit in!” I got a fairly disapproving phone call from my mother, she’d gone out to buy The Guardian because I was in it. So our rural landscape used to be amazing for hedgehogs because they need the hedgerow, because the hedgerow provides shelter and it provides food. And also, they need an environment in which there is plenty of food. And for hedgehogs, they are carnivores and their principle diets are macro-invertebrates, the bigger bugs and beasts, the worms and snails and puppy-dog tails, well maybe not the puppy-dog tails, but they are out there eating the beetles and the larvae of the various creatures that could be causing damage to crops etc. they’re a fantastic and voracious predator. Now, if you look at our magnificent green and pleasant land now you will find a massive dearth of hedgerows. This means not only have the hedgehogs got less shelter and less food, because they are a great place for food, but the ability of the hedgehogs to move through the landscape is massively hampered. They use the hedgerows to navigate, to be able to move through the landscape. And when you look beyond there hedgerows into the fields themselves, where have all the insects gone? Now that is interesting, I’ve been writing about this for years but it’s recently in the last few months it’s become a story that’s getting some attention, the loss of biomass. We get terribly hung up on the loss of biodiversity, about the fact that a species is going extinct but that’s fetishising the death of an individual of that species, I’m concerned about the death of the great wealth of life before that moment. There is a reason why you don’t have tonnes of moths careering into your windscreen on a summer’s evening and it’s not because the moths have got cleverer, you know, same with the hedgehogs, they’re not getting cleverer, it’s because they aren’t out there. Mike McCarthy wrote an absolutely fantastic book, I only recommend that because of course you’re going to promote my books but after you’ve read mine, Mikel McCarthy’s book Moth Snowstorm is an absolutely amazing look at this change in bio abundance and the change in the amount of life that’s out there. So, our rural landscape, since the end of the second world war has become an industrial workplace, it’s become a factory floor. It’s become very good at producing very cheap and often fairly poorly nutritious food. And that has meant there is no more food out there for hedgehogs, because to create a massive field of oilseed rape, Dave Goulson, an amazing academic has done some research and found that on average, you need 17 applications of biocides, of various herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, insecticides, per crop. You know, there aren’t 17 different trips out, they tank mix them so they’re going out in a mix, but 17 different applications per crop. And these are all designed to kill hedgehog food.

[09:45] SARAH: Indiscriminately, as well.

[09:48] HUGH: Of course, absolutely and we cannot avoid two other factors which are affecting hedgehogs in the rural landscape, one is that it is being fragmented by busier roads, especially the big roads are becoming busier at night because there is a lot of nighttime transport, so that effects hedgehogs abilities to move and then there is the most contentious issue which is there is the wonderful, the gorgeous and almost as cute as the hedgehog and that is the badger. Now, I’m always wary of getting drawn onto this because there are a lot of people that want to find excuses to kill badgers. Every now and then somebody says “ah those conservationists, they’re just hiding the secret! We know the secret, the secret is it’s badgers what did it!” Well, badgers will eat hedgehogs, we know this. I’m in the relatively unfortunate position of being able to say with a relatively straight face that while I was radio-tracking hedgehogs in Devon and I pushed my way into the undergrowth and I found a badger eating my little Willy. Now, what I learned from that was, it’s quite important to name your hedgehogs sensibly. But it’s also quite important to recognise that badgers are a natural predator of the hedgehog. That’s always been the case, badgers always eat hedgehogs. Their claws are longer than hedgehogs spines, they’re strong enough to open up a rolled up hedgehog. But does this mean the badger has an impact on the hedgehog on a population level? Well, for a long time I’d seen no evidence to suggest that it did but recently we have seen very clear evidence that yes, badgers do have a population level impact on hedgehogs. Now, it’s not as simple however as then blaming badgers because badgers and hedgehogs have a very complex ecological relationship. It’s known as an asymmetric intraguild predatory relationship, they are essentially competitors for the same food resource, until that food resource is degraded and then they form a predatory relationship and I’m sure you’ve fantasised as I have about small herds of hungry hedgehogs chasing down a badger as it flees down a hedgerow, it’s never that way round. So, we have shifted things in our environment, such that their relationship has changed. Badgers and hedgehogs have coexisted in our landscape since the retreat of the last ice sheet some 10,000 years ago. They can coexist and there are parts of the country where they seem to coexist. But at the moment they’re not and that’s a really large part of the problem.

[12:09] SARAH: So that would explain why, I suppose, there’s the trend now for people to see gardens as such an important environment, because they’ve not got the habitat in the rural areas they used to have, so our gardens become part of a network.

[12:25] HUGH: Absolutely right and the thing is the hedgehog likes, it is that sort of mosaic ecosystem, lots of different environments, they’re a generalist feeder, they have lots of different areas they can operate in and they can find food in. Some species like dormice or great crested newts, they’ve got very specific requirements and therefore it becomes quite straightforward to go well we’ll protect that particular environment and we’ll protect those species within that environment. But the hedgehog can move considerable distances. I know through tracking them they can move 2km straight line distance on a map in a night and they never walk in a straight line and other radio tracking work has shown that male hedgehogs will occupy a home range of 30 hectares, females about 10 hectares and they can easily do about 2km in a night, so you look at your garden and you think well that’s very sweet and lovely, but actually they may cover 20 gardens in a night and this is the sort of patchwork habitat that we used to have in our wider rural landscape but that has disappeared, largely, so you’re absolutely right, our gardens have become hedgehog central

[13:33] SARAH: And you mentioned to me in your email that this time of year we should be prepping our gardens, ready for the emergence of the hedgehogs and part of that, you also sent me a link to a video which I’ll also put on social media and in the show notes, but this video was actually you I believe, drilling a hole through a wall, through a lovely wall! But is this an important thing for us to be considering at this time of year, is this the time to do that kind of activity?

[13:57] HUGH: Well this time of year is quite a good time to step in and do this sort of thing, they should be deeply in hibernation, so that means there won’t be any young and that’s one of the bits you can really cause trouble with when you start shifting things around and you disturb a nest of youngsters, that can be quite traumatic and if they’re very young the female can eat the babies. If a hibernating hedgehog is found now simply leave it alone, cover it back up and just leave it alone. What I meant by prepping, it’s a good time, the vegetation hasn’t grown up, so if you’ve got walls which often have plants rowing up, maturing in the spring and summer they can be quite difficult to get to. The flower beds may be quite bare at the moment the borders, so you can get to your walls without causing too much devastation. And so there’s a campaign which I run in Oxfordshire called HedgeOX, and as part of that. I’m encouraging people to do this thing, to make the holes in their walls because as I was mentioning, the hedgehog needs a massive area to be able to thrive, for food, for shelter, for mating. They will travel considerable distances and we may think we’ve got the best wildlife friendly garden ever and you can sit out there and look at the birds and the bats and the bees and the butterflies and everything else which can fly but you forget that until the hedgehogs evolve the capacity to actually fly or have mastered the art of the trampoline, they’re not going to get into your garden if there’s not suitable access. So actually, one of the things I have done, drilling holes is a great part of it, retro-fitting like that is hard work. Now there are a lot of new build estates being planned, we’re perpetually being told about the housing crisis and we need more and more new housing. Leaving aside the politics of that discussion, if we’re going to put new housing in, it can be counterintuitive. You look at a field and you think this is a lovely thing for wildlife, we must campaign against the housing estate. But if you put in a housing estate that’s done sensitively you can increase the biodiversity of that area enormously, as long as it’s a connected environment. So what I’ve lobbied now, I’ve started a petition through change.org and if I could possibly, possibly twist your arm to include that in the links it’s be fantastic, this petition is calling in the Housing Minister Kit Malthouse and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that all new build estates come with the concrete gravel boards for the fencing with a little hedgehog hole, that’s all it needs. One hole, per garden. I spoke to a developer, he reckoned it would cost 50p per house to get this done. You know, it’s not really gonna break the bank and it will make all the difference. So when I started this petition about 4 months ago, I was hoping to get 10,000 signatures and then I was hoping to get 100,000 and then I thought well, let’s aim for a quarter of a million. Just this morning it crested 450,000 signatures. And if we can get this small change done. Obviously, it’s not just hedgehogs that are going to benefit and once you’ve got developers thinking about this wildlife value of connecting the gardens up. Put a bat brick in, put a swift box up, put a few other little bits and pieces in there, make sure your design of the new housing estate incorporates wildlife. And then we all benefit, we truly, truly benefit when we have contact with nature. It does us good.

[17:25] SARAH: It’s such a no-brainer as well, and such a low-cost thing. People I guess may be concerned that there are gonna be holes in their fences, how high does the hole need to be and how wide?

[17:37] HUGH: Ok, so we say the hole should be about 13cm across, the drill bit I’m using in that video is 127mm. We use a CD case as the basic template for the size. Now, I’ve talked about this for years and I’ve come across three groups of people who’ve got reasonably good cause for concern. I’ve met two people over that time who’ve got small tortoises and they have made their gardens tortoise proof. That’s not gonna run with having hedgehog holes. I’ve met somebody with a miniature dachshund, again you’ve got a problem with that. And then there’s the people who live in areas where there are lots of rabbits and they’re growing lots of food and they’re very concerned about trying to keep rabbits out of their garden. And so, the solution we’ve got there and the one which I do recommend, is simply you fence off your growing areas. And when you’ve got your valuable crops of food you fence that off or at the very least leave corridors, make a fenced corridor at the back of the garden where hedgehogs can move through. So they don’t benefit from your garden but they can carry on moving through the environment, because it could be that your beautiful vegetable patch is the barrier for hedgehogs moving through the wider landscape. So yes, people do have concerns. I’m often asked about rats, the rats are in there anyway, because they’re gonna cling up, they’re gonna burrow under, they can get in anyway. I’m asked about cats, cats are in there anyway. So really, I think rabbits, tortoises and dachshunds are the biggest challenges.

[19:09] SARAH: So it’s about corridors really isn’t it, to enable free access.

[19:13] HUGH: It’s about corridors, yep.

[19:16] SARAH: And there’s some fantastic information on the BHPS and again, this does relate to people with gardens and on there it doesn’t mention about leaving wild areas in the garden, so if you have a small garden is this still worth doing, even if it turns out to be quite a small patch?

[19:31] HUGH: The thing about leaving a wild patch and creating some sort of hedgehog habitat, if it’s a small garden then no, don’t turn over your tiny patch to brambles,. It’s just not going to work. But do look at what other things you can offer. So your wild patch could consist of just a small pile of logs, with a space inside the pile of logs which a hedgehog could use as a nesting site. A log pile, why would you want a log pile? Well, the logs rot and attract insect life which feeds on it, which lays eggs which turn into larvae which hedgehogs eat, you’re creating part of a system. The same with a small compost heap, it provides warmth, it attracts invertebrates, it provides shelter for hedgehogs and it provides a food source. So you don’t need to give over your small and precious patch to brambles, you can do a few small things and the Hedgehog Street website, the BHPS website, have got loads of material, there are loads of free information to download guiding you with planting tips about designs of lots of different hedgehog feeding stations, about things you can do. If you’ve got a pond, you see don’t just look at the positive things, look at the negative things and then fix them. If you’ve got a pond make sure the hedgehogs can get out of it. Because hedgehogs can swim, but not forever, especially if you bought a pond and sunk it in the ground it can have quite sides, if there’s no way for the hedgehog to get out it will drown. So make sure there’s a ramp or a little beach area and that benefits, again, so much other wildlife too. Hedgehogs need water too, you know last summer was desperate for hedgehogs and water was absolutely crucial for them because water not just for them to drink but because water provides a source of life for the invertebrates the hedgehogs need to eat.

[21:20] SARAH: And should we be leaving water out if we have another drought?

[21:24] HUGH: Yes, so a shallow dish of water is absolutely crucial.

[21:27] SARAH: OK, and I know it recommends that you don’t leave milk out and I know that this has been causing problems still, even in this day and age. Can you just explain why milk isn’t a good idea for them.

[21:39] HUGH: It is a complicated thing in the sense that hedgehogs will drink milk but hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and it can make them very poorly. So the really big problem is that hedgehogs don’t know that they’re lactose intolerant so yes, when they’ve got this fatty, protein-rich liquid they will go for it, they will drink it, but do not ever put it our for them. This comes from, there’s an old myth that hedgehogs would steal milk from recumbent cows. The hedgehogs out in the field would be thieving milk from cows and that’s where this whole story came from that that’s how you best look after hedgehogs, is to give them milk. The point is, hedgehogs sharp little teeth designed for catching slugs and the large teat of a cow are not a good match. And so no, a hedgehog is not going to latch onto a cow. But they might lick up spillage and they might be seen doing that and it goes into the folk memory that’s what they like. To drink, they need water, to eat they need meat.

[22:35] SARAH: OK, and is it worth putting supplementary food out, should we be doing that, or is there no need?

[22:41] HUGH: I think it’s really valuable to put out food for hedgehogs on two different levels; one because we, with the best will in the world our urban environment isn’t as rich in macro invertebrates as we would like it to be, but the second one is hedgehogs will tend to come to your garden and they will tend to feed in the borders, they will tend to keep themselves to the edge because that is their natural regime, to go to the edge and to get the benefit for us to having a hedgehog in garden. It’s all well and good seeing a dropping on the lawn and saying ooh that’s hedgehog poo, that’s great, but actually seeing the hedgehog is a whole different thing. So putting the food out for the hedgehogs in a place you can see them gives so much benefit, it gives that inspiration and encouragement to keep on doing it.

[23:31] SARAH: I mean I live right on an oak woodland edge and I’ve never, ever seen one, not even a little bit of poo, so sadly I’m not sure I’ve got them but I’ve got dogs and cats, I mean is that a deterrent to them?

[23:43] HUGH: It depends what sort of dogs they are. I mean there are nice dogs and there are nasty dogs, I’m sure yours are lovely. Also, do you spend much time out in your garden at night, I mean remember they are nocturnal and they might be using your garden at two o’clock in the morning.

[23:57] SARAH: Yeah, no I don’t actually and I try not to let the dogs out too late because we’ve got foxes that come in, so I tend not to disturb them if I can avoid it.

[24:12] HUGH: Certainly, the advice with dogs and hedgehogs is if you’ve got a dog that’s a bit aggressive with wildlife then, you know, make sure a light comes on before the dog is let out, make sure the dog gets the chance to bark once or twice before it goes out and maybe follow it around for a while to make sure it’s ok. If you’re interested in checking, trail cameras are becoming more affordable, these outdoor cameras you can leave that are triggered remotely, you get amazing ideas of what is coming to visit your garden. Or the other thing to do is to get a hammock. You get a hammock and a big double duvet, wrap yourself up int the duvet and then lie in the hammock and you’ve got this brilliant base from which to listen for hedgehogs because they snuffle quite noticeably and you just lie out there and listen out for the snuffling noise and if you’re lucky, along it’ll come.

[24:59] SARAH: As long as you don’t fall asleep. So I was reading with interest about the banning of the metaldehyde slug pellets as of spring 2020 and I think that’s probably good news for the hedgehogs but what else do we use in our gardens in terms of chemicals, or indeed non-metaldehyde slug pellets that don’t agree with hedgehogs?

[25:25] HUGH: OK so all of the chemical use in our gardens is quite problematic, so one of the things is the reasons these chemicals are being used, on the whole, is to remove invertebrates, that’s the main target. Obviously you’ll get rid of fungi and other things too with specific chemicals, but if your aim is to remove invertebrates, or to remove what some would describe as weeds, then you’re removing food for hedgehogs, or you’re removing the food of the food for hedgehogs. So from that perspective I have my concerns about it, but on the whole, most of us if we were to take a step back and go, well which do we want, do we want an absolutely perfect set of blooms or do we want some real wildlife in our garden, actually perhaps I’m being naive…amongst the people I know, there is a tendency to go I’m happy to sacrifice a bit of neatness for a bit of life. I think that when it comes down to it, I’d hope to think that we would back on our lives and go I saw lots of wildlife rather than I saw lots of manicured gardens. But there is a second problem with the use of these agro-toxins within a domestic setting. We don’t have lots of evidence about what kills hedgehogs directly, but there is an issue with a thing called the sub-lethal effect, so things which don’t actually kill hedgehogs but maybe and for example we know that some of thee chemicals reduce fertility, so we ran a statistical model that looked at how many hedgehogs there needs to be in an area and how big that area needs to be, such that the population can thrive. This is called a minimum viable population analysis and what you’ve got to realise is throughout our very human affected landscape, we’ve created a whole series of islands. Islands of gorgeous hedgehog or other wildlife habitat, surrounded by, not an ocean obviously, but surrounded by walls, by fences, by busy roads, by industrial estates, by things which are impenetrable. And so within that island, how big does that island have to be so that hedgehogs can thrive and how many hedgehogs do there have to be and when we run the statistics we now know there needs to be about 30 hedgehogs and the area needs to be 90 hectares, which is about a square kilometre of the very best habitat. When you move out to the rural landscape it’s much bigger numbers but that’s based around what we know about hedgehog reproduction rates and to have a viable population we need it to keep on going, generation after generation, but if the application of slug pellets, of RoundUp, of all sorts of other things that are out there reduce the ability, the fertility of our hedgehogs, even by just 5 or 10% that means we’ve set in place attrition, we’ve set in place a gradual decline and eventual piecemeal extinction of hedgehogs in that island. So yes, the consequences of our chemical use are more than just the obvious.

[28:24] SARAH: And how nematodes, is that the same thing inasmuch as it’s getting rid of the food source?

[28:30] HUGH: It’s a risk in terms of getting rid of the food source. We’ve checked actually on this and these nematodes have absolutely no impact on hedgehogs, they are not mammal specific.

[28:37] SARAH: I was also reading on the website about what you should do if you find an injured hedgehog or one that you find out during the day so is it true that if you find one out during the day it’s not right and you need to get help for it?

[28:51] HUGH: Most of the time. It’s not absolutely cut and dried. If you see a hedgehog that is very obviously going from place A to place B and it’s got a mission in mind, especially if there has been a sudden downpour of rain or some people have been doing some building work or lots of people have been gardening, if you have that sort of situation and the hedgehog is going from one side of your garden to the other side of your garden and it looks big and healthy, most people who spend time in gardens have got some idea of what healthy and unhealthy wildlife looks like. You can tell when something doesn’t look right. If it looks ok and it’s just on its way, leave it alone. However, hedgehogs do not sunbathe if they are well, they simply do not sunbathe. Hedgehogs will appear to sunbathe if they’ve got hypothermia and hedgehogs will not stand still in the garden if they’re well and they will not look like they are drunk if they’re well. And if they are covered in ticks or even if there are a few ticks on them and you can see them, again this can be an indicator because ill animals have more parasites internally and externally. So in each of those instances, if you see s hedgehog which looks peaky or it looks small, especially coming to the end of the year, so in the autumn and it looks very little weighing less than 500g it will need to be fattened up and released back into the wild. Now the BHPS has got an emergency phone number on their website, get in touch with them, they can direct you to the local hedgehog rescue centre and if there isn’t a local rescue centre you’ll need to find your local vet, get the hedgehog taken along there. And cardboard boxes are your friend, because hedgehogs can have quite wet faeces, so get yourself some newspaper, put it in the bottom of the cardboard box, put the hedgehog in the box. Keep the hedgehog warm, so you can make a hot water bottle for hedgehogs using an old drinks bottle with warm water in it. Give the hedgehog some food and water a jam jar lid is a useful way of doing this because it’s not too high-lipped the hedgehogs can get in there, so some meaty pet food and a saucer or a little jam jar lid of water. Stick in a towel, something that you are happy to wash at a high temperature so it can roll itself around in that. They can be very, very messy eaters, just as a warning. And put the lid on the box because they can climb out. Then what they will do is they will hide under the heaviest and most immovable object in your kitchen if that’s where it is. They will do that because they’re malicious.

[31:16] SARAH: They don’t want our help. Do they bite?

[31:18] HUGH: Yes, but on the whole without too much of a problem. You see the thing about a hedgehog is it’s got this amazing defence strategy, it’s got a coat of spines, so it doesn’t have a fight or flight response. Most wildlife when you get close to it it either runs away or tries to bite you but the hedgehog doesn’t, it rolls up into a ball. Now if you really piss of a hedgehog it will have a go. The only time I’ve been bitten, and I’ve handled hundreds of hedgehogs, was an American TV crew was doing an interview with me and they wanted to get an image of me with a hedgehog close to my face so I had it in my hand and had it’s face sticking through between my thumb and my forefinger, so if you have look at your thumb and your forefinger and you open it up and you’ve got that little flap of skin and it was that little flap of skin that was very close to the hedgehog’s mouth. It didn’t draw blood, I don’t know anybody that’s had blood drawn by a hedgehog. On the whole, they are a fairly benign and gentle beast but the prickles are prickly, I mean that sounds ridiculous to say but they really are prickly. I have a stuffed hedgehog, a taxidermied hedgehog and this hedgehog has been stroked by thousands of people and people are always astounded by quite how prickly these spines are, so gloves or a towel or a t-shirt, anything like that, it will help you when you pick a hedgehog up, just to have a bit of protection.

[32:38] SARAH: OK, and so apart from all the habitat destruction and the chemicals we’re chucking down, what are the other dangers hedgehogs can face from humans, what are the biggest enemies of them.

[32:53] HUGH: Well, we haven’t really mentioned the stereotypical image of the hedgehog which is being squashed on the roads but obviously cars are a problem and cars have an impact on two levels, one is that maybe 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on the roads each year but the other is busy roads prevent hedgehogs moving through the environment. They create a barrier to hedgehogs movement through the environment. But actually when you look at what we operate in within our gardens the bits which are probably the most disastrous for hedgehogs are our desire for a cult of tidiness, we want tidy gardens so we hit the gardens with strimmers. Oh, my social media feed, obviously because of the work I do with hedgehogs, you can have look if you don’t believe me, @hedgehoghugh on most things, you will find images of hedgehogs in some state of distress. The trimmer hedgehog thing is not a good mix. You see most other wildlife when somebody’s walking along a verge or the other edges of your garden, most other wildlife is going to go “what the fuck’s that?” And run. The hedgehogs response is, I’ll just roll up, it’s fine, it’s worked well for the last few million years, I’ll just have a little roll up and then they get strimmed. So just, if you’re going into vegetation and you can’t see into, run the non-business end of a rake through there or your foot, just gently and just check. And the other one are bonfires. If you want to create the perfect hedgehog home, let me describe it to you. You get some dried leaves, you may a big pile of dried leaves. Then you put some twigs around the dried leaves, a pyramid shape is good. Then you put some bigger bits of wood around those twigs and then you put some bigger bits of wood on top of those and you create this wonderful shelter and obviously you’ve created the perfect bonfire. Hedgehogs do not realise that as a potentially lethal place to go they will go into it because it’s a really lovely hedgehog home. Build them hedgehog homes by all means, just like that, but don’t set fire to them. If you are building a bonfire, try to build it on the day you are lighting it because the hedgehogs are nocturnal, they will be sleeping during the day and you can light the fire without worrying. If you’ve had to build it again, this is the non-business end of the rake stick it in and lever it up have a look what’s in there. More than just hedgehogs take shelter in places like this. See what you can save.

[35:06] SARAH: Very wise words. So you mentioned your petition, if people want to find out or they want to help even with hedgehog preservation, what are the most important things they can do right now, how can they help?

[35:18] HUGH: Well, right now I would say if they’re listening to the podcast at home, go online, go to change.org search for the hedgehog petition, that’s a good start. Look for Hedgehog Street. Our campaign is one which we started with relatively small targets for success and I think now over 50,000 households have signed up as hedgehog champions. Get on to the Hedgehog Street, begin to talk to your neighbours, find out if they’re interested in hedgehogs too. See about making a hole between your gardens, get your neighbours to talk to their neighbours. I know this can be very, very un-English sometimes but do it, be brave, talk to your neighbours. I have been to hedgehog street parties, hedgehog bunting is quite a thing, hedgehog cake, all of these things, bring your community together around our share love of hedgehogs.

[36:12] SARAH: Well, what a fantastic ambassador Hugh is for hedgehogs, many, many thanks to him for his immense knowledge, it was a real joy to speak with him. Please do check out the various links Hugh suggested and I will put a link to all of these in the show notes, plus a supporting blog post on my website. Do pick up a copy of one or both of Hugh’s books if you’d like to find out more about his work and also check out his website: www.hughwarwick.com Don’t forget, if you like the podcast, please rate and review it in itunes, go to my website to sign up for my newsletter and if you want to be a Roots and All hero, check out my Patreon or gofundme where you can help to support my work by making a one-off donation or you can become a subscriber. So thanks for listening and I’ll catch you all next Tuesday.

[24:09] OUTRO: You can download or listen to the podcast direct from the website www.rootsandall.co.uk where you’ll also find my blog and a sign-up form for the newsletter which gives you a weekly round-up of content, plus the inside scoop on things like upcoming guests. Or you can subscribe wherever you normally get your podcasts. Email me with comments and feedback at podcast@rootsandall.co.uk follow me on twitter: rootsandall, facebook: rootsandalluk and instagram: rootsandallpod. But please also check out my Patreon where you can make a one-off donation or take out a monthly subscription to help support my work because if you like what I do, please help me to continue doing it, even if you make a one-off donation of a pound, trust me, it all helps and I will be immensely grateful. So please go to Patreon and search for Roots and All.

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