Battle for Britain’s hedgehogs: the woman who lives with more than 100 ‘oggies’
A new initiative aims to make gardens and gardeners more disposed to hedgehogs. Neil Hudson reports on the battle to save one of the UK’s most ‘endagered’ species
Vicky Greenwood is explaining to me why she has over 100 hedgebogs in her house. They are kept in plastic pet boxes and take up just about every available surface in her front room, not to mention her living room and several other rooms in the house.
“It wasn’t always like this,” explains the 43-year-old, who runs Oggles hedgehog rescue centre, Dewsbury. “Once upon a time we could see the TV.”
To understand how Vicky got to where she is today you have to turn the clock back five years, to when she rescued her first hedgehog.
“It was 2010 and I was leaving work in Huddersfield and I looked down and saw this hedgehog staggering round the car park. It wasn’t in a good way. I didn’t hesitate, I picked it straight up and took it home.”
At the time, Vicky had none of the benefit of her years of experience of caring for the mammals, which have recently been given ‘under threat’ status by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).
“I didn’t know where to turn, a lot of people had advice but there was a reluctance to get involved. All I wanted to do was to look after it myself.”
That’s precisely what she ended up doing. So transformative was the experience she ended up completing a hedgehog rehabilitation course sponsored by the BHPS, which taught her just about everything from what to feed them to how to remove ticks and other pests, which, by the way, she has no qualms about doing, eagerly showing me her ‘bug jars’, which are essentially the last alcohol-based resting place for a variety of larvae and other gruesome creepy crawlies, including ticks and maggots, most of which have been removed from her spiny-backed guests.
“Looking after hedgehogs is just something that grew and grew,” says Vicky, who at present is nursing a broken leg sustained after falling backwards down some steps.
“I try not to say ‘no’, because if I do, I know it might mean the hedgehog suffers or has a painful death. Obviously, I cannot save them all but I am glad I can do what I can for some of them at least. In my own way, I’m making a difference.
“The satisfaction is when you see them going back to the wild. I’m just of the mind that if we forget to look after the little things, the bigger things will fall apart. Everyone is busy looking after themselves at the moment,they forget how lucky we are to have wildlife visiting us, it’s a privilege not a pest.
“It amazes me when I go into schools to give talks and 10 and 12 year-olds have never seen a hedgehog - even some 16-year-olds have never seen one before. I remember when I was a kid, we’d see them all the time. Now, the only ones you see are dead ones.”
The 2011 State of Britain’s Mammals study was commissioned by the animal charity the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to provide an overview of research by wildlife and conservation experts across the UK. It found the UK’s hedgehog population had fallen to below 1m for the first time. Considering there were some 35m in 1950, the species is now considered to be on the brink of becoming extinct.
This week the trust launched a new drive to make home owners and members of the public more aware of the plight of the mammals, with an interactive website-based map - hedgehogstreet.org - and the chance to register as a ‘hedgehog champion’.
The site includes top tips to help hedgehogs, including some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and creating favourable habitats and ‘bridges’ or ‘gaps’ in walls, fences and hedges, to allow the creatures to wander around.
Vicky, who spends at least £100 a week on cat food alone - which forms the staple diet for most of the hedgehogs she takes in - has a menagerie of animals at her house, including nine domesticated cats, two feral cats she has recently taken in, a ferret her partner, Steve, found abandoned outside Dewsbury Hospital, around a dozen chickens and rabbits and in the past she’s also rescued gerbils (which someone left in a cage next to her car one night) and a cockatiel.
She said: “I try not to think about how much we spend on cat food and all the other stuff. We survive on donations and online auctions. Ideally, we would like to build an extension out the back or just move house.
“I always live in the hope that one day we will win the lottery but in the meantime we have to utilise what we have got.”
Fay Vass, chief executive of the BHPS, offered some advice on how to help hedgehogs.
“Make sure hedgehogs have access into and out of your garden, a five inch square gap will open up a perhaps long used hedgehog highway that us humans have blocked with fences or walls. Hedgehog travel up to a mile in a night so need access to plenty of gardens.”
Top tips include:-
Keep a corner of your garden wild to offer shelter.
Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets in your garden, these harm hedgehogs.
Make or buy a hedgehog home, this offers a hibernation site safe from predators in the winter.
Check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs and other wildlife before strimming or mowing.
Dispose of litter responsibly. Every year hedgehogs die trapped in discarded rubbish.
Check woodpiles before burning as bonfires.