Three years ago, I decided that I wanted to try and get a little fitter. I didn’t much care for jogging, for if the looks on the faces of all the joggers I’ve ever seen are anything to go by, jogging makes you thoroughly miserable. The day I see someone jogging with a smile on their face, I might consider it. Neither did I relish the thought of joining a gym. All those egos and judgmental stares…and that’s just the registration!
So I decided to go walking. I live semi-rurally, and as such there are lots of beautiful places to go walking if you care to seek them out. The canal (pictured above) is one such place. You can literally walk for miles following the canal, as it carves its way through the countryside, and alongside hedgerows and farmers’ fields.
On this particular day, I chose to walk a little further than normal along the length of the canal. I passed some impressive bulls in a field, was forced to jog a little as one of them put its head down and looked as if it might charge, said hello to several elderly cyclists (all of whom looked at least seventy-years-old and yet were, to a man, kitted out as if they were taking part in the Tour de France!) and watched a couple of boats negotiating their way through the locks. Eventually, the canal widened a little and I reached some hedgerows that had been practically razed to the ground by some mechanical strimmer. Ahead of me, there was what at first glance appeared to be a leaf, rocking slightly in the breeze. As I got nearer, however, I was horrified to discover that it was a baby hedgehog! It was rocking through dehydration and hypothermia, and was heading towards the canal. I know all the warnings about leaving wild animals where they are and not picking them up etc, but as I looked at the destroyed hedgerow, I realised that this poor little guy’s home must have been caught up in the destruction. I picked him up as gently as I could. The poor thing was freezing! What to do? There was only one thing to do. Stick him under my sweater for warmth and walk home as fast as I could!
On reaching home, I threw a medical heat pad in the microwave (still holding the hedgehog under my sweater), then wrapped the pad in a towel, placed the hedgehog on the pad and covered him with another towel. Then I waited…and prayed.
Slowly but surely, he began to come round. I was overjoyed! Now, what to feed him? I first gave him a bowl of water, and couldn’t believe how thirsty the little guy was. Then I blitzed up some kitten food and offered it to him. He ate the lot! As he drank and ate, and ate and drank (still on his heat pad) he seemed to rally more and more. Once he’d finished eating, I couldn’t resist. I picked him up and held him and he fell asleep in my hand.
I named him Baby Pricklepants, and he stayed with me until he was old enough and strong enough to be released. I will add at this juncture that I already had three adult pricklepants who came to my garden each evening for cat biscuits and water, so I’d already decided that the garden would be OK for him. Still, the day I set him free in my garden was so emotional. Was I doing the right thing? Would he survive? What about hibernation? All these questions ran amok in my mind. I so wanted to keep him, but I knew that would be cruel. He was born free, and so he should live free. I’d been forced to intervene, but it was up to Mother Nature now. That night, I actually cried myself to sleep with worry for him.
The next evening, I heard some rustling among the leaves at the side of the garden. I crept out to take a look and literally cried with joy! There was my Baby Pricklepants…with the other three adults! He was a wild, free hedgehog, and though I was sad that I would never again hold him in my hands, I knew that that was exactly as it should be.
Baby Pricklepants still comes to the garden each evening. He still knows me (if I let him sniff my hand, he relaxes and continues eating, even allowing me to stroke him spines a little). Each winter, I worry whether he’ll survive his hibernation, but each Spring, there he is again, hungry as ever.
As many of you will be busy with your gardens at this time of year, I wanted to say that although we tend to like things all neat and tidy, why not spare a thought, not just for pricklepants, but for a multitude of little animals who just want to have a home, and leave a section of your garden to grow wild. And perhaps some of you could ask your councils or municipal authorities to hold off on trimming back their hedgerows until after the breeding seasons have passed. You never know how many lives you might save!