Hedgehog going the way of the oryx


WHERE have all the hedgehogs gone? They are said to be going the way of the tiger and the mountain gorilla, the oryx and the snow leopard.

Up to 1978 I used to see quite regularly, squashed corpses on the roads, and road toll that could only increase with traffic density.

Nowadays I do not see hedgehogs on the roads but badgers instead. I counted 23 killed badgers on a drive last year down to Devon from Sussex. I also see lots of dead foxes too. Over 20 of those on a drive to Norfolk.

Surely this is part of the equation. Both badger and fox, according to the Handbook of British Mammals, find little difficulty in opening up curled hedgehogs.

The badger often turns them inside out and leaves the prickles attached just as a fox will turn a mole inside out leaving a clean skin for you to find.

Just watch a badger at work. It is like a vacuum cleaner, its nose constantly on the ground.

It shuffles along hoovering up larvae, earthworms, centipede, woodlice, slugs, snails, and any sort of egg in season whether that be woodcock, tree pipit, chifchaff, woodlark, skylark, partridge.

Also bluebell bulbs: indeed anything that it can find.

It is especially attracted to dense beds of leaves for the earthworms.

A hedgehog is like a truffle to us, a delicacy.

Never in history have badgers had it so good. Our ancestors hunted them and smoked their hams which were a delicacy in their turn.

Until their protection in 1970s they were not that common anywhere. But now they are and it is so good to see them. But everything has a price.

It is the same with deer. There are so many now that woods have lost their ground cover, which is bad for birds like nightingales, wrens, garden warblers and yellowhammers.

Another enemy of the hedgehog is the garden strimmer.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has warned that these garden and footpath machines are devastating hedgehogs since their invention on a large scale back in the 1970s.

Farm pesticides and garden slug pellets also spell death to Tiggiwinkles.

One of the most bizarre hedgehog deaths I encountered on several occasions is when the animal tries to lick out the inside of a custard or cream plastic pot and gets the receptacle firmly stuck on its head as the prickles catch like a collar.

All that you then are left with is a skeleton wearing a plastic cup on its skull.

Lay-bys, country car parks, hedgerows and any urban area is a high risk area for this ancient animal with ancestors dating back a hundred million years ago.

Now the double wammy includes too many foxes and badgers.