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Folly Wildlife Trust : Hedgehogs in Crowborough and the surrounding area

posted 12 Jul 2012, 11:53 by Haley Whittall
Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust have been working with hedgehogs for over 20 years, initially from the home of founders Dave and Annette Risley in Eridge and latterly at the Trust’s new wildlife hospital in Fairview Lane on the Broadwater Forest near Tunbridge Wells.

Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs are more common in towns and villages than they are in open countryside. The reasons for this are not fully understood, but perhaps their natural enemy, the badger, tended (until recently) to steer clear of human habitation, offering it some protection, while much of the persecution they formally suffered at the hands of farmers and game keepers, would have been largely absent in these places.

Ironically though, this protection comes at a price, as being in such close proximity to humans, has left them vulnerable to our destructive and wasteful activities that cause so much animal suffering. In a typical year, we admit some 3500 wildlife casualties of all types, but 500 of these are hedgehogs, a hugely disproportionate figure for a single species.

Hedgehogs are, unfortunately, somewhat ungainly and although they can climb well and are good swimmers, they cannot climb out of broken drains or uncovered post holes and trenches, while their swimming skills are quickly defeated by steep-sided ponds and uncovered swimming pools. They are also often the victims of entanglement in plastic garden netting (and if undiscovered, suffer a horrible, lingering death), while attacks by domestic dogs are an increasing problem (and their spines offer very little protection, especially when terrier breeds are involved). Additionally, burning in bonfires (that haven’t been checked before being lit), garden pesticides, broken glass and litter and discarded games netting, all take their toll.

During their breeding season (which begins in April and extends right through until October) many nests are dug out by dogs or destroyed by gardeners. A typical hedgehog nest comprises a football-sized ball of woven grasses, leaves, plastic bags and litter, situated just below the surface and they can be difficult to spot.

Electric strimmers, too, are a common cause of injury and death, as many hedgehogs, especially in very warm weather, will sleep in the open, usually in long grass and undergrowth.

The Mammal Society and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society now believe the UK population of hedgehogs has crashed in recent years and it has even been suggested that they could become extinct in many places before the end of the decade. Little work has been done on the reasons for this steep decline, but it is very likely that loss of habitat, combined with the relentless toll of accidents, is a major factor in their decline.

In our own local area, we have seen unprecedented house building in the past few years, with large gardens often being sold off to developers, who then squeeze three or four new houses into the space, removing at a stroke, much prime hedgehog habitat. Hedgehogs it seems do not like such disturbance and often, soon afterwards, disappear completely.

Years ago, it was a fairly common site to see hedgehogs squashed on the road, but this is now a rare occurrence and could mean there are just no hedgehogs left to be squashed? People visiting our wildlife hospital and perhaps seeing a hedgehog, often remark ‘we used to have hedgehogs visit our garden, but we don’t see them any more’. Amazingly, hedgehogs enjoy very little legal protection. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to catch, trap or kill them without a licence and The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 protects them from cruelty, but that’s about it.

If you are a gardener, always check bonfires (and if possible, move the pile) before lighting it. Check areas to be strimmed very carefully for hedgehogs (and always bear in mind that other creatures may be present too; every year we admit frogs, toads, newts and slow worms that have been strimmed). If you’re clearing out a flower bed, especially a much neglected one, be aware that a hedgehog nest or hibernaculum may be present. Hedgehogs often make their nests inside sheds and garages, utilising old newspapers, bin bags and other rubbish and if you’ve left a bin bag of garden waste outside for any time, check it before disposal, because they are a favourite hiding place.

If you let your dog out in the garden last thing at night and you know you have hedgehogs in the vicinity, either go with it or check the area first; many of the injuries hedgehogs incur from dogs often prove fatal.

In Crowborough and the surrounding area there are still apparently healthy pockets of hedgehogs (but no one really knows how many and whether or not they are in decline). Whitehill Road, Green Lane and Old Lane, as well as the Alderbrook area all feature in our recent records, and the same applies to many parts of Tunbridge Wells.

In polls, hedgehogs always feature in the top 10 of the nation’s favourite mammals and everyone loves the idea of having hedgehogs to help control the numbers of slugs they have, but sadly, because of our collective cavalier attitude to wildlife, they could very soon be just a distant memory.

Written by Dave Risley 



The Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust RCN 1091857
Broadwater Forest Wildlife Hospital, Fairview Lane, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 9LU
Open daily 08:00 until 20:00
Helpline 07957 949825
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