What a surprise to discover a healthy population of wild hedgehogs happily living in my city garden here in Bishopston, Bristol.
It turns out our spikey little friends are faring better these days in urban and suburban areas than in the countryside. Some people think this might be due to more biodiversity and less pesticide use in city gardens than in the country (the same goes for city honey containing less pesticides, apparently).
I wanted to do my bit to help hedgehogs and soon realised this has to be a neighbourhood effort. So I signed up online as a Hedgehog Street and started leafleting the local neighbourhood with updates under the pseudonym name of Mrs Tiggywinkle with tips on how to help our hedgehogs. Neighbours soon began making feeding and hibernation stations and, as the word spread, other local roads - particularly Egerton and Berkeley - have been really active making simple changes to their gardens: putting holes in their fences, ramps in their ponds, and promising to stop using slug pellets. And the hedgehogs appear to be thriving.
Having observed hedgehogs in all the seasons at close quarters for the last eight years they really are the funniest and most beguiling of creatures. Full of individual personality and often a wonderful mix: shy yet confident, curious but always determined.
I have watched them scare off any number of large foxes to get to food first, climb vertical walls, and one we called Steve who would come calling at the back door at 6pm on the dot throughout October and November for his evening meal of dry cat food.
Not to mention the high drama of their mating ritual which is a noisy affair, with the often rather fierce larger female very much in charge. Interestingly, the small flattened circles of grass found in meadows or on lawns, called fairy rings, are in fact where the male hedgehog has been trying to impress the female by walking around and around her with his finest swagger.
Ancient lore and mythology around the hedgehog is also fascinating. The ancient Egyptians believed hedgehogs protected against evil and often wore hedgehog amulets for protection. Many Slavic creation myths feature the wise old hedgehog saving the day when things went wrong as the world was being created. In medieval times, the saying ‘To be more hedgehog’ was a call to be more patient and saintly - who knew!
So if you fancy this little power house of amusement, myth and wonder to visit your garden and eat a few pesky slugs too then simply create gaps in your fences and walls: ‘Build it and they will come’. Pathways are vital for them to get in and out of your and your neighbours’ gardens. Bristol’s hedgehogs are out there - they just need a way-in-and-out. The key obstacle hedgehogs face for both food and finding a mate are man-made barriers.
Finally a garden that is open, friendly and a little bit wild is good for the hedgehog. This is probably rather good advice for us too, so stay friendly and a little bit wild.
Therapist, teacher, painter, eco-schools warrior and hedgehog champion, Claudia Bonney is impassioned about promoting nature and wellbeing in her Bishopston area of Bristol. Are you passionate about wildlife in your area of Bristol? Maybe you could be one of our wildlife champion? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hedgehogs in the garden: Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography