Huddled up in a jumper watching the wind whip up the garden it is hard to remember that around a month ago we were in the middle of a sweltering heatwave. I distinctly remember the hottest day. I filled up the bird bath and water stations first thing then retreated inside to shut windows, curtains and blinds in an attempt to keep the house cooler than the already sweaty temperatures outside.
It was cool inside. Outside though all was not well. Mid-afternoon I nipped out for a quick leg stretch and nearly tripped over a hedgehog on the lawn. It seemed oblivious to the heat and was sluggishly wandering about near the greenhouse right out in the open without any obvious direction or motive. I’m a relative novice when it comes to hedgehogs. I do know though that a hedgehog outside in broad daylight is probably in trouble. The sun was scorching and humidity was crazily high that day. Something was up.
The first rescue centre confirmed my fears. Any hedgehog outside in the daylight on a swelteringly hot summer day would be likely dehydrated and possibly ill. Our hog would need to see an expert. I was given the number of a closer rescue centre, Help4Hedgehogs. They repeated the advise to catch the hedgehog and bring her in. I asked about babies. Several of our hedgehog visitors have been sporting very round tummies recently. We had been hoping with all our fingers crossed that later this summer we would be seeing baby hedgehogs appearing at the feed stations. What if this adult had a litter somewhere? Tiny hoglets (or urchins as they are known) would stand no chance alone in this heat. Catch the adult first, I was advised, then have a quick scout about for an abandoned nest by listening out for the little high pitched squeaks of babies calling for their mother nearby.
Having emptied out my husband’s tool crate and hunted out my thickest gardening gloves I set off to track down our prickly friend. It hadn’t moved much – it was now bumbling about near our compost heap and just a meter or so from our hedgehog box I had optimistically installed last autumn. Somehow I managed to scoop up the surprisingly large prickly bundle. The prickles were not as spiky as I had imagined and the poor old hog didn’t put up any kind of resistance once it was cornered.
Given the proximity of the hedgehog to the hedgehog box I gave it a quick check, using the video function on my phone to quickly peek in through the tunnel. Inside I saw a messy heap of leaves, grass and the odd bit of garden rubbish (note to self, must be more thorough clearing up) heaped up. Cycling weakly out of this pile, to my amazement, I saw a tiny little leg. Removing the tunnel and looking gingerly inside I found another second small prickly back next to it but no sign of any adult. My worst fears seemed to be confirmed.
On the advice of the rescue center both adult and babies, still in their nest box, were brought in. Help4Hedgehogs is a volunteer organisation run out of a house in Goring. I can’t imagine the amount of hours of care they must put in but I am grateful such places exist. I was very happy to send in a (entirely unsolicited) donation afterwards – hedgehogs don’t eat fresh air after all. It was a busy day for hedgehog rescues that day so dropping off the box only took a minute or two and then I was home again, feeling worried about our adult hog, elated that hedgehogs had been breeding in our garden and using our box and bereft that we would not get to see them as they grew and that we were one adult hedgehog visitor less. I desperately hoped that I had done the right thing.
We still had two hedgehog visitors that night – something that would make the blow that was about to come a tiny bit easier. For the next day I received a message from the centre. There had been five tiny babies in our hedgehog box. The adult female we had brought in with them though was not their mum.
I am unable to find the words to describe how awful I felt. Guilt doesn’t even begin to cover it. By bringing the baby hedgehogs in I had created the very scenario I had been trying to prevent and added an extra casualty into the bargain – tiny babies effectively orphaned and a mother wondering where her babies had gone. I clung to the words of comfort from the rescue centre – the babies had been alone in the raging heat, in the daytime. That was not normal and how was I to know that the hedgehog I found so close to them wasn’t their mum? Prior to catching the other hedgehog which took ten minutes, I hadn’t been out all day so unlikely the nest was disturbed without me noticing the adult leave. Who knows where or what state their real mum was in, how long she had been gone or if she was coming back. All the same, it didn’t make me feel much better about my well-intentioned meddling. If only I had waited it out patiently for another hour or so first in case mum had returned?
The five little hedgehoglets were sent to St. Tiggywinkles to be cared for. The adult hedgehog remained at the centre where she was treated for internal parasites and had a few ups and downs with weight and bladder issues. On Saturday, nearly a month after she went in, we got the message we had been hoping for. The hedgehog was up to a good weight and finally ready to be released. Please would we come and collect her.
Roo and Beth couldn’t wait for the hedgehog to come home and we went to pick her up the next day. A very snoozily hedgehog was transferred into a cardboard box packed with bedding. Roo did her best to keep quiet in the car on the way back so as not to disturb her and had a wonderful time shhhing her sister whenever she went anywhere near the study where the hedgehog was resting until it was dark enough outside to let her go. Releasing hedgehogs in the daytime disorientates them. Meanwhile my husband and I set to work upgrading the old hedgehog box that had been returned to us. A felt roof was added for additional rain protection, hinges put into the top so it can be easily accessed for an annual clean around April time, some ventilation tubing put in at the back (old hosepipe) and some plastic sheeting put on underneath to prevent damp rising up into it. Whoever moves into this upgraded luxury residence will be super-snuggly.
When night finally came, the rain driving down, I installed the cardboard release box out near our wildlife wood pile where our other more improvised hog shelter made from bricks and paving slabs has been set up. Roo pulled down the cut-out exit flap and put out the kitten biscuits the hedgehog rescue center had provided us with nearby. She didn’t need to fill up the water bowl – the rain had done that for us. The wildlife camera was set up and then we tiptoed back inside, eager for next morning’s footage.
Whilst the camera missed Hedgey’s exact moment of emergence from the box, we did track her having a munch on the cat food we had put out before scuttling off into the night and investigating the new hedgehog shelter. The other feeding station in the garden was a complete mess the next morning – something that hasn’t happened since the rescue center drama. It seems Hedgey made it over there too and that we have worked out which of our garden hedgehog visitors is the messy eater! As for the cardboard release box…when I went to check that it was empty before bringing it in, I discovered it had a new furry resident snuggled down in the bedding. It turns out that our cats seem to think they have grown prickles!
Worried about a hedgehog you’ve found?
If you are worried about a hedgehog you have found then do get in touch with your local rescue center for more advice. The general consensus seems to be that an adult found out in the open in broad daylight probably has some kind of problem and will need help. Scoop it up with gardening gloves and pop it in a high sided cardboard box lined with some newspaper or old towel so it doesn’t disappear whilst you call the rescue center. If you accidentally uncover an occupied hedgehog nest with or without babies, it is best to leave it undisturbed (human scent may cause mum to abandon it). If you’re worried about the babies being abandoned then keep an eye on it from a distance for a couple of hours to check that mum comes back. Be careful not to disturb it again as adults may abandon the nest completely or even eat the babies. If you can’t immediately find a local rescue center and your hedgehog is in immediate need of help then remember that your local vet will probably be able to help without charge and will likely know where your local hedgehog rescue is.
Useful sites for advice on helping garden hedgehogs:
– St. Tiggywinkles has great information on everything you need to know about your garden hedgehogs, including what to feed them and when to be worried.
– Hedgehog Bottom is a rescue centre based in Thatcham with a really informative website and a useful search and map that helps find your local rescue centre. It doesn’t cover everywhere though so use Google too or call your local vet or another rescue center in the wider area, both of whom may be able to help provide details of your closest one.
– Hedgehog Street is a brilliant website providing both loads of information on hedgehogs and a community within which to share hedgehog sightings, advice and news.