On Friday 26th April, Barton Village was host for a group of 6 Hedgehogs which have been rehabilitated by the Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity. The CRT helped organise the release pens where they will stay for a couple of weeks getting used to life in the village before the pens are opened up and the animals allowed to find their own way out. We also involved the local primary school, and six lucky children were allowed to help with the introduction of the hedgehogs – they all got to hold one of the animals. It would have been great for the whole school to see them of course, but we had to keep the numbers low to avoid undue stress to the hedgehogs. Five Barton children from the school will be helping with the daily round of feeding and watering the hedgehogs and getting to learn about their needs, and no doubt from their excitement they will tell all their friends about it!
The hedgehogs were all given individual houses with hay bedding, and two hedgehogs were placed per run, with access to food, water and piles of compost to root around in. Each run is separated by wire partitions but on the first night, two of them decided to move from their run to join their neighbours, making one run empty and the next one with 4 together. By feeling inside the bedding it was found that there were two per house! Clearly they are quite friendly hedgehogs! In the other run, the two hedgehogs also moved in together.
The release date will not be the end of the project, however. We will continue to provide shelter, food and water in the release pens, so they can come back if they can’t find what they need for themselves in the early days. And each animal has a unique numbered blue tag on its back, so if we get any sightings it will be possible to study how well the release has worked. Information will be provided to the local people to let them know about the project and keep an eye out for hedgehogs.
The CRT would really like to see hedgehogs on Lark Rise Farm of course, but there is a problem – badgers. While badgers are a great species themselves, mostly feeding on earthworms, they are serious trouble for hedgehogs. Badgers are the only animal strong enough to attack them (although some foxes also get the knack of killing hedgehogs). The hedgehog’s defensive strategy of curling into a ball with their spines raised does not stop badgers from opening them up. In the absence of larger predators such as bears and lynx, badgers have no natural enemies and with complete legal protection, they have flourished. While the pros and cons of a cull are debatable it seems an ideal opportunity to study the effect of badger removal on wildlife. In the absence of badgers, it is possible that hedgehogs could become so numerous as to be a problem themselves of course – in the past they were notorious for their raiding of bird’s eggs! The balance of nature is a delicate one, and we have tilted it severely off its axis. But the sheer joy of the children at seeing hedgehogs up close reminds us how much we are missing.