Incoming Insects

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for migrants (of the insect type) in our garden and around Malvern, so I thought I’d collate what we’ve been seeing.

First up an insect that is really only a migrant by name – the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). A beautiful dragonfly that used to be fairly uncommon in the UK – hence the name Migrant, but is now well established. This particular one was buzzing for insect prey on some rough ground at Chris’ workplace.

We’ve been blessed with at least one Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) in the garden most days for the last month or so, but apparently we are not alone. Every few years the country gets a “Painted Lady Summer” when they come over in huge numbers from abroad – and this is one of those summers. Some people have reported seeing them in their hundreds (a friend of mine in Edinburgh got driven inside by having so many of them on her patio it freaked her out!). Sadly we’ve not had that many, probably because we’re the wrong side of the country, so the most we managed to count on the buddleia was 5 at one time. But that’s a record for us, so we’re happy to see them even in low numbers.

We tend to be more lucky with the moths. First a very small migrant moth, but one which some years can come over in huge numbers. The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is only a few mm long, but somehow manages to survive the journey over from the continent and into our Malvern garden. Most years we only get 1 or 2 at a time; the most we’ve ever had in the moth trap in one night is 20, but they can apparently arrive in their thousands. Not the greatest photo of this one below, but you can at least make out the joined up diamond pattern on its back.

A larger macro moth – the Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is another one we see regularly in low numbers. They have a characteristic Y shaped mark on the wings (although admittedly it is upside down) and are often active during the day. The first one I ever saw, was nectaring on some lavender during the day – I thought initially it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth from the way it moved, but  know better now!

We have seen genuine Hummingbird Hawkmoths this summer, but I’ve not managed to get any photos – they’re just too fast and I’m just too slow most of the time. But here’s one we did manage to catch a couple of years ago.

 

Undoubtedly though the highlight of my moth-ing career so far, and probably the best catch I’ll ever get, was one from a fortnight ago. I’d been enviously enjoying photos of Bedstraw Hawk-moths (Hyles gallii) on various social media for a couple of weeks, but never dreamt I’d be lucky enough to catch one in our garden. But at the beginning of August I got up to empty the trap and nearly fainted at the sight of a Bedstraw Hawk-moth sitting there. I was so nervous opening the trap in case it flew off – no-one would ever believe me unless I could get a photo of it! Fortunately it was a docile beauty that didn’t object too much to being potted up and photographed.

I posted some photos on Facebook and a few fellow moth enthusiasts came round to see it before I released it unharmed. When I put it out on some Rose Bay Willow-Herb, it vibrated its wings for a few seconds to warm up:

Then it shot off like a rocket. We have a large buddleia bush nearby and it circled that a few times. I watched in horror as 3 sparrows flew out from the bush trying to catch it, but thankfully the moth was quicker than the birds and it got away. Don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d seen it get eaten by the sparrows!

I am told this was only the 5th record of a Bedstraw for Worcestershire and probably the first record for Malvern. I doubt I’ll ever see another one and unless a Death’s Head Hawkmoth lands in the garden, I doubt I’ll ever have a more exciting moth find. But each weekend from now on I will open the moth trap in hope because you just never know what is going to be in there!

 

 

 

Freda – A Hog’s Tale

If anyone reads this blog regularly, they will know that hedgehogs feature quite a lot. We feed the hogs, put water out for the hogs, provide houses for the hogs, pester the neighbours to put gaps in fences for hogs, watch the hogs on cameras and generally worry about our hogs and their well-being on a near daily basis.

When we got a hedgehog house with built in camera, we were thrilled to get one using it regularly. Never staying the whole night, but most nights he or she would come and have a rest for an hour or so, before continuing with the nightly foraging. Here’s a compilation from a few nights of resting and yawning!

Hedgehog Yawning compilation

This hog came at a similar time every night, so we think it was the same one. Following the events below, we hardly saw one using the box for months, our regular just stopped coming. So I think the yawning one above is the one who went on to have an eventful summer – Freda.

In the middle of May we caught a hedgehog with difficulties on one of the cameras. There was clearly something wrong with one back leg in the video below.

Hedgehog in need of help

I messaged Viv our local hedgehog rehabilitator and she kindly came round to help me look for our limping hog. I had thought I might have to sit up for nights trying to see the struggling hog, but thankfully Viv found it in one of our hedgehog houses. “It” turned out to be a “she” and so she was named Freda. Freda had one back foot missing completely. We’ll never know what happened – whether it was an animal attack or a strimming incident, but it was heart-breaking to see.

Hedgehogs can manage quite well with one back leg missing, but it is usually best to remove the leg entirely. If they are left with a stump it drags on the ground when they walk and the wound keeps getting opened up again and infections would set in. So it was decided that it would be best for Freda to have the leg amputated and she would stay at Viv’s until her wound had healed and her spines had grown back.

Poor Freda had more drama in store though. Having survived the operation successfully, it turned out she was pregnant. In June she gave birth to 5 hoglets. Unfortunately Freda had developed an infection and was unable to suckle the babies properly. Sadly by the time this was discovered it was too late to save the  hoglets.

Fortunately Freda herself responded well to antibiotics and began to recover from her ordeals. By the middle of July she was well enough to be fostered back to us in our hutch in the garden. We could feed and monitor her for a while and it would free up space at Viv’s for other hedgehogs in more need. I pointed a camera at the hutch to check how Freda was doing on her first nights in the hutch. Although she could move around the hutch well on 3 legs, unfortunately she seemed completely stressed out by it all. She could now smell the garden and like most wild animals was desperate to be free. She was climbing the front of the hutch and scratching at the walls trying to get out.

Freda in rehab hutch

Stress can be a killer for hedgehogs, so we couldn’t keep her cooped up like this any longer. Viv has someone with an enclosed garden that she uses to do soft releases for hedgehogs like Freda. Freda could be released into this garden and monitored to make sure she could cope back outside on her own and move around OK with only 3 legs. Fortunately Freda proved that she could cope very well, so after a week it was decided to catch her and bring her back to our place to release in the garden properly this time. It is always best to release hedgehogs back where they came from if at all possible, so Freda came back home.

I put her in the hedgehog house with the inside camera and blocked the entrance so she’d stay there until it got dark. She settled right in and had a bit of a nap as if she knew she was home. When it got dark enough, I unblocked the entrance and off she went.

Freda release night

The video below shows her emerging from the hedgehog house (ignore the date on one of the cameras, it wasn’t set right). Almost immediately she finds some smell she’s interested in and starts self-anointing – a good sign I think that she’s behaving naturally. Then off she trundles into the rest of the garden.

Freda release

We had cameras set up round the garden for the next few nights to check she was OK. Fortunately she seems happy to stay in our garden where there is plenty of food and water. Her gait may not be gainly but it doesn’t stop her moving around and finding food, water and shelter.

Freda getting about the garden

We weren’t the only ones pleased to have her back in the garden. By the second night she had already attracted an admirer. We’ve had a one-eyed hedgehog in the garden for some time – we hadn’t known whether it was male or female, but given the attention it was paying to Freda I think we can safely assume it’s a male. I’ve named him Wodan – the Anglo-Saxon variation on Odin the one eyed god! In the video below Freda goes into the hedgehog house and within minutes Wodan is running up and down looking for her, before realising she’s in the house and following her in.

First encounter

Wodan may be keen, but Freda is less so. A couple of nights after her return to the garden he pursued her for at least an hour and a half. They circled round and round with lots of annoyed huffing from Freda.

Persistent Pursuit

The same happened inside the house – she clearly wasn’t impressed and did her best to turf him out.

Freda & Wodan

Whether Wodan got his way with Freda in the end – well we won’t know unless of course she has another litter of hoglets. It’s getting late in the year for hoglets to be born now – they won’t have enough time to put on weight before the winter. So that will be the next worry for us and for Freda. Fingers crossed though that the dramas are over for Freda now and that she can live a long and healthy life in the relative safety of our garden.

A huge thank you to Viv at Malvern Hedgehog Rescue http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  for all she’s done for Freda and all the other hedgehogs in her care. Hedgehog rescues like Viv’s tend to be self-funded so please consider supporting your local one. Donations of food, supplies or just good old financial support are always welcome.

Or why not consider becoming a supporter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ – raising awareness and campaigning on behalf of our native hedgehogs.

Or simply help the hedgehogs in your own garden. Put out shallow dishes of water; all year round but especially in hot dry weather. Supplement their natural food with either meaty cat or dog food, dry cat food or good quality hedgehog food. Leave a bit of your garden wild to provide natural food and shelter. Simple things that can make a big difference.

 

A Pootle Round Poolbrook

This weekend we had a couple of lovely walks around nearby Poolbrook Common in search of butterflies. I say walks, they were really more of a pootle – a gentle meander through the grass. Poolbrook Common is so close to us there was none of the usual “pressure” to see things, as we could always go back the next day, or even later the same day. The butterflies were also so abundant that getting photos was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. So we pootled happily for an hour or so just enjoying being surrounded by so many butterflies.

The butterflies in question were mainly Marbled Whites, although there were also Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Small Skippers and one Gatekeeper. Poolbrook Common seems to be well managed in that the grass & meadow flowers have been left to grow, then cut later in the year and the butterflies have benefited. We met a walker who told us one of the reasons the Common is managed this way is due to the presence of Skylarks. And sure enough we saw several of these rising high above the grass or flying past with beaks full of large insects.

We didn’t really care whether the Common was managed for butterflies or birds, the end result was lovely. We’d seen on the Malvern Butterfly Facebook Group that the Common was well worth a visit right now and they weren’t wrong! There must have been literally hundreds of Marbled Whites – neither of us have ever seen so many. We both tried getting photos to convey the abundance, but none of them really did it justice.

So I did make this little video, just panning around to try and show how many there were in just a small area. Not sure it was really any more successful than the photo – I think you just have to go and see them for yourself.

Marbled Whites are beautifully photogenic butterflies (not that there are really any butterflies that aren’t photogenic), both from above and from below.

Males and females look similar on the upperside of the wings, but can be differentiated by the undersides. The males have completely black and white patterning.

Whereas the females have a more sepia tone going on.

Mr and Mrs Marbled White.

We saw a few bits of flirtatious butterfly behaviour, but only found one properly mating pair.

None of the ringlets would pose for photos, but fortunately the sole Gatekeeper sat still long enough for one.

The Meadow Browns were quite flighty on Saturday, but on Sunday we’d got up really early and were down on the Common before the butterflies had really woken up. The Meadow Browns were still roosting in the grass and much easier to photograph.

There were plenty of Small Skippers about too; I always think they look cheery little butterflies, I don’t know if it’s their colour or their buzzing flight.

And of course I can never resist a moth, particularly one as dashing as this Five Spot Burnet (possibly Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet?) moth.

One final photo, just because we don’t often get the chance to be so face to face with a butterfly!

 

 

Final Fritillary Makes Fifty

As 30 Days Wild draws to a close for another year, we are managing to go out with a bit of a bang.  Having already had a very successful June, seeing our first ever Marsh & Heath Fritillaries, we set off to Wales in search of our final fritillary and 50th butterfly species – the High Brown Fritillary. Some of the land we went on was private, so I can’t disclose the exact location but we were in the Alun Valley area, courtesy of an organised and escorted trip by Butterfly Conservation.

The High Brown Fritillary is apparently the UK’s most threatened butterfly species, remaining in only a few sites in England and only one in Wales. It happened to be the hottest day of the year so far for our walk – challenging conditions for an unfit middle-aged couple!

For the first site we visited we parked (I say “we parked” but we got a lift there from the very kind Mike) next to a dried up river bed. There were a few pools remaining and it was great to see loads of what we think were toad tadpoles wriggling in the shallows. They’d got their back legs but no front ones yet; fingers crossed they complete their metamorphosis before their pool dries up completely.

We headed up a slope to an open area of bracken that is being managed for fritillaries. Loads of large fritillaries were visible darting about the bracken – a mix of Dark Green and High Brown. The High Browns were a really rich dark orangey brown colour, the Dark Greens being a bit more muted, but at the speed they all flew, it was difficult to tell which was which. It soon became apparent that the fritillaries had little intention of stopping to get their photos taken. A ready rule soon came into practice – if a large fritillary landed it was a Dark Green one; if it flew past you like the clappers, it was probably a High Brown. Despite repeated attempts to chase them down, the High Browns escaped our cameras at this site. Thankfully the Dark Greens were a bit kinder to us. This one posed nicely for Chris on a thistle flower.

Then Mike spotted a pair of mating Dark Greens and we all rushed to get a photo of something!

Having had enough baking in the heat at the first site, we moved onto another site a mile or two away. This also had lots of High Browns with perhaps fewer Dark Greens. Apparently some other lucky butterfly spotters had got plenty of good photos of the High Browns earlier in the day – our timing was not so good.  The cloud cover meant a lot of the fritillaries had gone down into the bracken and weren’t flying, making them virtually impossible to spot.  They do particularly like thistle flowers and a local guide pointed out a thistle that had had High Browns nectaring on it in the morning. It seemed worth a shot, so I staked out this thistle for a few minutes. Having limited patience, I soon got bored of looking at a butterfly-less thistle, so reached into my bag for some water. No sooner had I done so than a High Brown Fritillary landed on the thistle. Water bottle cast aside, I grabbed the camera again and managed a few frantic shots before it flew off. None of my photos would win any awards, but they are at least identifiable as High Brown Fritillaries – on the first photo you can see an extra row of brown spots between the outer edge and the silver spots – the Dark Green Fritillaries don’t have these.

We saw lots of other butterfly species during the day – Small Heath, Comma, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, and Skippers – most of which were also bombing around in the sunshine too fast to photograph. Heading back to the car we saw a patch of nettles covered in Peacock caterpillars – the next generation in the making and a lot easier to photograph than fast flying butterflies.

So we’ve “bagged” our final fritillary species and our 50th butterfly species in total. Only 8 more species to go (9 if we count the Cryptic Wood White over in Northern Ireland). It was a really great day in Wales, with a lovely bunch of people.

And to finish the day – a bottle of Wood White beer – a new beer produced by Wood’s brewery with part of the sales going to Butterfly Conservation. Always happy to do our bit for conservation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marsh Fritillary – Butterfly No. 49.

Our final blog post from our holiday in Somerset/Devon and we set out to see and hopefully photograph our next butterfly species – the Marsh Fritillary. From our base on Exmoor we headed across north Devon to the Dunsdon National Nature Reserve. We were reliably informed by the local Wildlife Trust that this would be a good place to see the Marsh Fritillaries and with the weather forecast looking better than it had all week, we set off. The reserve took a bit of finding as it is tucked away, but it was well worth the visit. There was only one other couple there – also keen butterfly spotters, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The marsh fritillary likes damp grassland and given the weather we’ve been having recently there was certainly plenty of the damp element around. We left the car and followed the boardwalk through the trees until we got to the first field. Within yards we’d spotted our first ever Marsh Fritillary – our 49th species was ticked off the list!

We managed a few photos before it started pouring with rain again and we retreated to the car. Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long, so we headed back out again and were rewarded with plenty of butterflies. We must have seen at least a dozen fritillaries during our visit. The first few we saw were all sitting with their wings open to reveal their beautifully patterned uppersides. Here are some of our better photos.


Of course having got the upper view, we wanted some side on shots. Luckily we found a few feeding on thistles, nicely displaying their gorgeous undersides.

Most of the fritillaries we saw were settled on the thistles or amongst the grass, but we did see a few in flight, dancing over the meadow – a really lovely sight.

The marsh fritillaries may have been our main focus, but other insects kept side-tracking us as well. I can never resist a moth and spent a large part of the visit chasing a particular species around until I could get close enough to identify it – a Burnet Companion as it turns out.

We had hoped for some dragonfly action, but apart from a brief glimpse of an impressive dragonfly in the distance, the only one we got close enough to was this female large red damselfly.

Scorpion flies always fascinate me, so after a bit of the usual chasing I managed to get a photo of this one. I think it must have been a female, as there wasn’t much sign of the scorpion like tail.

We do try to enjoy any interesting plants we see too and not focus solely on the insect life. Dunsdon reserve also had some lovely spotted orchids. No idea what species they were, but guessing they were not the same as the Heath Spotted Orchids we’d seen the day before as the habitat was different.

The reserve had a fair number of dainty Ragged Robin flowers which prefer damp meadows like this. Not only are they gorgeous little flowers, they are great for wildlife too.


But my favourite remains the Forget-me-not. I’ve loved these flowers since I was a child and the holiday cottage we stayed at had a whole meadow of these gorgeous sunny blue flowers. The image has stuck with me for over 40 years and I still love the sight of them today.


So that’s the final blog post from our trip down south and our 49th species of butterfly photographed. Only 9 to go now (10 if we decide to include the Cryptic Wood White in Northern Ireland). We’ve got one more species we are hoping to see this year – the High Brown Fritillary – watch this space!

 

Heath, heath, heath!

On our recent trip to Somerset, we had a bit of a mission going on – to see 2 more species of butterfly, namely the Heath Fritillary and the Marsh Fritillary. We went for the Heath Fritillary first, having discovered a site at Haddon Hill that was supposed to have a population of them. Haddon Hill is at the edge of Exmoor and overlooks the delightfully named Wimbleball Lake. Unfortunately having researched enough to find the hill had a population, we didn’t dig deep enough to find out exactly where on the hill to look. So we ended up spending about 3 hours wandering round the hill on a walk that was only supposed to take an hour! Not a glimpse of a fritillary, but we did see a Small Heath at least – not the heath we wanted, but after 3 hours we were just grateful to see a butterfly – any butterfly!

The hill did however have its fair share of bird life, including lots of Meadow Pipits, who seemed to fly up repeatedly to get a better view of us trudging in circles.

We also saw several of the famous Exmoor ponies – much easier to spot than the butterflies. They are native breed of pony and were recorded on Exmoor as far back as the Domesday book and have probably been there for thousands of years.

Fortunately having drawn a blank on Haddon Hill, we had a plan B when it came to the Heath Fritillary. We had booked ourselves onto a guided walk by Butterfly Conservation and the National Trust around Halse Combe the following day. The weather wasn’t promising with rain forecast, but at least we were with people this time who knew where they were going!

So we headed up the combe until we reached a sunny(ish) open slope. Almost immediately someone spotted a Heath Fritillary, basking in what little sunshine there was on some bracken. It was smaller than we had expected and much browner than the other fritillaries we have seen, but a real beauty. We waited our turn while everyone in the group had a go at photographing the first one – so here it is, our first heath fritillary:

After that the group fanned out across the slope looking for more butterflies and being very careful not to stand on any! It being a bit of a cold damp day actually helped with the photographs as the butterflies weren’t in the mood for flying. So once you found one, it was relatively easy to get a photo. The Heath Fritillaries are beautiful on their uppersides, but their wings are even more stunning when the undersides are visible; like miniature stained glass windows. So here are a few of our favourite shots from the day.

We spent a very happy half hour or so photographing the butterflies before the heavens opened and it really did start raining quite heavily. We took shelter under some trees, until it became obvious that the rain wasn’t going to stop and we headed back down hill. On the way, one of our guides showed us some of these pretty little Heath Spotted Orchids.

We returned to the carpark, slightly soggy, but very happy to have seen our 48th species of butterfly. Thank you to Meghan from Butterfly Conservation and Basil from the National Trust to leading us straight to these elusive butterflies and giving us an excellent and informative guided walk. So we went looking for a Heath Fritillary and ended up getting a Small Heath and a Heath Spotted Orchid too – 3 for the price of 1, can’t be bad!

 

Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

Hedgehog Awareness Week – Hog Blog

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week and time for another hoggy blog! There are lots of hedgehog events going on around the country; we may not have any events in the garden, but there is plenty of hedgehog activity. Our first hedgehog emerged from hibernation at the end of February. We now have at least 3 hedgehogs out and about at night, possibly more, but as we don’t mark them it is hard to know for sure. I think I’ve seen One-Eyed Tim – one of our released hogs from last year, so it’s nice he’s made it through the winter hibernation. They don’t always get on and there can be a fair bit of pushing and shoving!

Every night we can hear hedgehogs snuffling around the garden and some nights we can hear them up to a lot more than that – Love is in the air! On a slightly less romantic note, there are also plenty of deposits round the garden to indicate their presence too. Here’s a photo from last year, showing a typical hedgehog poop with bits of beetle clearly visible.

Last year our neighbours replaced the fence running between our gardens. Thankfully they were more than happy to leave gaps for hedgehogs to come and go between the gardens. Here’s a compilation of hedgehogs using our “Hedgehog Highway”.

Highway Traffic

 

Hedgehog Highways like this are vital for linking up gardens to provide sufficient habitats to support a healthy hedgehog population. You can find more about the value of connecting gardens on https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/ but basically all you need to do is make 13cm/5 inch square gaps in your fence to allow them to come and go. There are moves afoot to try and make it part of the legal process to include Hedgehog Highways in all new housing developments’ planning applications. So far over half a million people have signed a petition to try and get the government to act on this: https://www.change.org/p/help-save-britain-s-hedgehogs-with-hedgehog-highways

Having provided access to you garden then food, water and shelter should be the next things on the hedgehog help tick list. Shallow dishes of water dotted around the garden can be life savers not only for hedgehogs but for all kinds of other creatures.

08130020

 

Leaving areas of your garden a bit wild (or very wild in our case) will provide habitat for insects which would be the natural food for hedgehogs. If you wanted to supplement their diet further, then meaty cat or dog food (poultry flavours in jelly would be best), dry cat food or specialist hedgehog food can all be offered. NEVER give them bread or milk. You can provide a feeding station like the one on the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding_Station.pdf or check out Little Silver Hedgehog’s advice on https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/

08074547

 

I realise not everyone wants their garden to be a total wilderness like ours, but if you do decide to do some tidying, please be hedgehog aware. Strimmers in particular can cause horrific injuries to hedgehogs, so always check an area carefully before charging in with the strimmer. A hedgehog’s natural defence is to curl up, but this won’t save it from a strimmer, so please be careful.

If you leave some wild areas in your garden, hedgehogs may choose to nest there, but many people also like to provide a nest box or hedgehog house. There are lots of these available on the market – the best designs have a base and an integrated tunnel of some kind that not only keeps out cold draughts but deters predators too. We now have 4 boxes in our garden, all of which are currently being used and 2 of which had hibernating hogs in over the winter. Here’s one of our hogs last autumn gathering nesting material (some of which appeared to be fighting back given the struggle he was having) and taking it into his hedgehog house.

Nest gathering

 

Our 4th hedgehog house was only bought a month or so ago and came with an integrated camera to film them inside. We waited with baited breath for a couple of weeks until a hedgehog finally deigned to check it out. We now have one popping in for a bit of a nap most nights. Having the camera in there is a revelation – seeing a hedgehog yawn for a start is just one of the best things ever!

 

Hopefully one will choose to use this box as a regular day nest or hibernation nest or dare we even hope – to have babies in!

Although most people love hedgehogs, they do still have a lot of dangers to face in their lives and can often be found in need of help. If you do find a hedgehog that looks like it’s struggling for whatever reason, don’t delay, seek help as soon as you can. If you don’t know a number for a local contact, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890801) and they will tell you your nearest one as well as giving you basic advice on first aid for your casualty. You can also find information on first aid on their website: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/First-Aid-Leaflets.pdf

If you don’t have hedgehogs in your garden, or perhaps don’t even have a garden, there are still things you can do to help. It could be as simple as picking up rubber bands on the street. Every day hundreds of rubber bands get dropped (often sadly by postmen) and hedgehogs (and other wildlife) can easily get a leg or even head stuck in the bands which can then cause horrible injuries or even death.

You could support your local hedgehog rescuer – most of them are volunteers who are self funded and do amazing work rehabilitating sick or injured or orphaned hedgehogs. You could help by volunteering with them (help is often needed cleaning out and feeding), or donating food or other supplies (even old newspapers are useful) or a more monetary contribution. My local hedgehog rescuer Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/ ) often has over 100 hedgehogs in her care – a massive undertaking and amazing commitment.

Or you could support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/ who work to promote hedgehog awareness, campaign on hedgehoggy issues, fund hedgehoggy research and supply hedgehoggy information to schools and other organisations.

So why not celebrate Hedgehog Awareness Week by pledging to do at least one thing to help hedgehogs!