Country Matters June 17

Country Matters

By The Hodge

“He lies like a hedgehog rolled up the wrong way,

Tormenting himself with his prickles.”

Thomas Hood, 1798-1845 – Her Dream

I find that as I get older I get more like the character in the television series One Foot in the Grave – Victor Meldrew. My Victor moment last week came when BBC Radio 4’s Today programme did a story on the decline of the hedgehog. Away from electioneering issues for a change, I pricked up my ears, (sorry, unintentional pun), in anticipation of something interesting at last.

The piece was introduced by explaining – in rather generalised round numbers – that populations of hedge pigs had declined by 50% in rural areas and 33% in urban areas. The story was coming from a wildlife rescue centre in Wiltshire, near Salisbury.

Given those ballpark figures by the interviewer, the woman who ran the centre where they were being overwhelmed with hedgehogs, ignored the decline in rural numbers and instead lambasted gardeners for blocking up gaps in fences which restricted the creatures’ ability to move from one property to another.

Victor Meldrew rose to the surface in a flash.

There was no mention of why numbers in the countryside were falling so dramatically. Nor any possible explanation as to why the gap-filling was causing hedgehog numbers to decline either – perhaps she thought frustrated hedgehog couples were prevented from sexual dalliances by being stuck either side of a fence!

Well, let me explain the real reasons which the BBC failed to elicit. Firstly, the massive decline in rural numbers is directly linked to the growth in numbers of badgers. Badger populations have increased dramatically since the 1970s and they are the only predator of hedgehogs being the only creature strong enough and determined enough to get through the prickly-one’s defences. The evidence for badger predation can be seen quite commonly in the countryside when you find the flattened skin of a hedgehog where all the internal organs and muscle have been devoured. It’s not a pretty thought but it is fact.

Those in more urban areas – i.e. our gardens – where badgers tend not to visit, may well be restricted in their movement by walls and fences but that doesn’t account for the decline. Hedgehogs (like badgers) are nocturnal and travel about their territory quite extensively. One of the main killers of hedgehogs are our vehicles on the roads at night, not being driven with ‘due care and attention’. The hedgehog is no match for the wheels of a car or van so please, do take care when driving after dark and don’t assume because there’s little traffic about that you don’t need to drive carefully at all times. Look out for these little creatures and take action to avoid hitting them when you see them.

The other action you can take to help them, (and to encourage them to help you), is to avoid using slug pellets in your garden. Hedgehogs eat slugs which is why we should do all we can to encourage them but if they eat slugs that have eaten slug pellets, they themselves are slowly poisoned. So if you have hedgehogs about, bin the blue pellets and use a beer trap or something similarly less lethal instead and let the hedgehog help you.

Vicor Meldrew has returned to his box….

June is the month of the major agricultural event in our region – the Royal Three Counties Show being held at Malvern from Friday 16th to Sunday 18thJune. This is Gloucestershire’s county show and one of the most important rural events in the country. There’s a whole host of interesting and entertaining activities taking place to suit all ages and interests – far too many and diverse to list here – so check out the details at www.royalthreecounties.co.uk and I hope to see you there. If you haven’t visited the show for some time – do come along – you’ll be amazed by how much it has changed and improved.

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