Going the whole hog

Britain’s favourite mammal finds a home in Walthamstow, writes David O’Driscoll

Hedgehog (credit David O'Driscoll)

A hedgehog enjoys a meal provided by David O’Driscoll in his back garden

One day this summer we were sitting in our garden enjoying the heat when, around dusk, we heard some noise and saw some movement in the undergrowth at the back of the garden.

Thinking the noise was one of our two cats we ignored it, but then into our view popped a small, round, spiky creature – Britain’s ‘favourite species’ according to a poll undertaken by the BBC’s Wildlife magazine – of course, a hedgehog.

We appreciate that despite its national status, many people in London have never seen a hedgehog, as they are predominately a nocturnal animal. We had been told there were hedgehogs in the Coppermill area of Walthamstow; in fact late one evening we had seen a group of eight, but very few sightings since then. Now we had one in our garden!

She was clearly a regular visitor judging by our cats' reaction, as they were not that
interested in it, and was enjoying the peanuts that had fallen from our birdfeeder. Since this sighting our neighbours have confirmed they have also seen hedgehogs in their gardens.

Urban hedgehogs are in serious decline; we have lost a third of our hedgehogs over the past ten years according to the excellent website HedgehogStreet.org. There are a variety of reasons for this; some of it is do with garden management, fencing limiting the area in which they can roam, and overly tidy gardens with no foraging areas. The widespread use of slug pellets has been harmful too. We were aware of these issues, so made sure our garden fence had gaps, but it was more in hope then expectation.

Hedgehog (credit David O'Driscoll)

The female hedgehog that regularly visits David O’Driscoll’s garden

The hedgehog diet is mainly invertebrates (insects and other ‘creepy crawlies’) but it is helpful for them to have supplementary food such as peanuts and mealworms. There are various hedgehog foods you can buy from garden centres and our ‘hedge’ loves these, so much so that she let us get very close to watch her eat, a real treat!

One day I was moving the hedgehog food into a container and accidentally spilt some on the floor in our lean-to, where we keep our bikes. That same night at around 7.30pm we heard some commotion in that area and were surprised but delighted to find our hedge hoovering up the few bits of food we had missed. Hedgehogs have a fantastic sense of smell but poor eyesight. She had climbed through the cat-flap hole,
drawn we think by the smell.

It is unusual for hedgehogs to be out roaming so early in the day, but she had young ones to feed. Since then we have met her three very cute hoglets. We moved their evening meal food to the lean-to and found that every night our hedgehog family would come via the cat-flap for their evening meal. We also made an area for them to forage in, which includes an area they could use for hibernation come November.

We hope that people not only in the Coppermill area but across Walthamstow can do their bit to help these quite wonderful creatures!

For more information on hedgehogs in London:
Visit wildlondon.org.uk/hedgehog