And this is how the story begins …
In the middle of the afternoon, as we were leaving the house to drive out, Ali spotted a small hedgehog in a large tussock of grass by a fence. The bottom of the fence is piled with long pine needles from the Corsican pine overhead and it seems that the baby may have emerged from a makeshift nest in the mix of grass and long dry pine needles. It is just as well she saw him, as I couldn’t even see him when she pointed him out.
As people with no knowledge of hedgehogs at all, we assumed that all was well with the hoglet and left him to go on his way, after putting a bowl of cat food and one of water out for him. A natural enough response -we had no reason to think there was a need to do more than that. Little did we realise that a hedgehog out and about in the daytime is a hedgehog in trouble.
We kept our eyes out for him and more hoglets over the next few days but didn’t see more until the evening of….
A delivery driver for a takeaway restaurant pulled into our drive in the early evening.
“Do you know you have three little hedgehogs over there?” he asked, as he handed over our lazy dinner, pointing at a shamefully unkempt bed mostly covered in shrubs and bushes, but in fact being the ideal hedgehog shelter at the entrance of our drive. “I just saw three little ones trotting down your drive and under the bushes”.
Sure enough, three small hoglets were there, hiding under the weeds in the damp scrubby bed in the shade of Buddleia and Magnolia. So, again we put food out for them and let them be – but not until I’d printed “Slow, hedgehogs crossing” signs lifted from the Internet, laminated and attached either side of the entrance. We would have been very upset if we’d found a flat hoglet there.
The next day my daughter visited to go for a walk. As we returned to the house with our dogs, she spotted a brown lump in the road outside our drive. At least that’s what I saw. She saw a hoglet. (Mental note made to visit opticians ASAP). He wasn’t moving much and it dawned on me that he was in trouble and we should do something.
We happened to have a spare hamster cage in the garage (it’s like Steptoe and Son in there -don’t even ask what else there is, but it all fits into the category of “I’ll hang onto this because it’ll come in handy one day”).
Wearing a pair of gardening gloves, we transferred the little hoglet to the cage and got him out of the sun, providing him with bowls of food and water. For no particular reason, and without really knowing his gender, I decided he should be called Cedric.
Now late afternoon, daughter had to leave but not before finding the number of our local hedgehog rescue, Hedgerows Hedgehog Rescue. The amazing Jill Beecher (who runs this non -profit rescue centre from her home on love, tireless energy, and the goodwill of donors), advised us that evening on what to do and promised to visit the next day. It was warm weather and Cedric was eating and drinking well, so we settled him down inside our shed, with some hay to nest in and food and water.
The next day we searched the driveway again and found the other two hoglets. Jill arrived shortly after. They appeared to be female so were immediately christened by Ali as Joyce and Sybil. Jill checked them thoroughly. It seemed that their mother had abandoned them or was two ill to look after them, or possibly worse. All three were extremely flea and tick-ridden and underweight but seemed reasonably well except for Cedric. Jill was unhappy about the skin along his skirt, the border line between spines and fur that runs circumferentially around a hedgehog*. She was suspecting an infection, so after de-fleaing all three, she set us up with clear instructions on how to look after Sybil and Joyce.
We are a bit crazy about animals, and have a menagerie. (A friend once remarked on this, asking “How many hearts beat under your roof?” We made it around 31, not including ourselves). We had a spare heated vivarium that we’d used for Herbie the tortoise, who we rescued from likely euthanasia as a baby and when only 90 grams. Herbie had long outgrown the viv but it was perfect for two tiny hoglets -only 110 grams on the day they adopted us. So in they went, complete with a thermostatically controlled heat mat and an IP camera fitted inside so we could keep an eye on them.
*This is one of the wondrous and unique design details of hedgehogs. Under the skirt runs a circular muscle, the orbicularis, that acts like a purse string to close the spines tight over the feet and underbelly as part of the familiar protective response of a hedgehog to perceived threat (they frown first, then tuck their heads down, before the familiar “curling up”). Humans have three orbicularis muscles, one round the mouth that purses the lips, and one around each eye, that screws them up tight. These two are often used in the human threat response “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me”. Not as effective as the hedgehog’s mechanism but still a favourite amongst children of all ages.