Baby hedgehogs are out and about now, but some don’t get much of a chance. They are very vulnerable at this young stage and some don’t even get to seeing much of the outside world.
When I worked as a veterinary nurse we often had wounded hedgehogs brought into the surgery and, because they were a particular interest of mine, when a nestful of babies was brought in I immediately adopted them. Their mother had been killed by a dog which left the little trio to their fate which, thanks to the owner of the dog, was with our practice. They still had fresh umbilical cords attached and were obviously newly born. Within two hours tiny white spines started to appear through their skins; the spines would eventually turn brown when they were older. I fed them on goats milk, Hedgehogs can’t digest cows milk, every two hours day and night, so it was quite a commitment. The owner of the goat farm very kindly filled ice cube bags with the milk, as goats milk freezes very well, so I could defrost it when feeding time came around. The little hoglets’ instincts told them when to hibernate and I released them in the spring. Of course we never know how hand-reared animals fare, once released, but I hope my adopted babies did well and went on to produce more little hedgehogs.
Another hedgehog patient was Hodge – not very original, I know, but you tend to run out of names after a while. Hodge was brought in with a badly broken leg which had become infected, so amputation was the only answer. We didn’t think it fair to release him with only three legs so I kept him as a pet. In retrospect, as it was a hindleg that was missing he would have been alright. He could walk very well and his forelegs were fine which he would have needed in the wild to scrabble for his food. He was very tame from the start and used to stretch out on my lap for a doze. He loved his hodge-burgers which I made from cat food mixed with insect bird food; there was no commercial hedgehog food, ‘Spikes Dinner’, available then as there is now. We estimated, from his teeth, that he was about three to five when he arrived and he went on for another five years, a good age for a hedgehog.
The roadsides are full of flowers this month and one that loves to scramble through the hedges is Honeysuckle. The White admiral butterfly, which like many things is in decline now, lays its eggs on this plant and many night time moths, including the exotic looking Elephant hawkmoth, are attracted to the sweet scented flowers. Birds feed on the scarlet berries which come later and dormice use the bark of the Honeysuckle to build their nests.
Another flower sometimes found by roadsides, especially on damp ground by ditches, is the Cuckoo flower. This plant, which is also called Lady’s smock, Milkmaid and Fairy flower, loves a wet habitat and often grows in damp meadows, around ponds and beside streams. It is an important food plant for the caterpillars of the Green veined white and the Orange tip butterflies.
Also a plant which occasionally occurs by roadsides is Giant hogweed. This looks exactly like the more familiar Hogweed but is considerably bigger, often growing to be more than ten feet tall. The sap is highly dangerous and can cause blindness and horrendous blisters. As it is also sometimes found in gardens it could be a danger to children who are attracted to the large flowers and hollow stems.
Last month I told you about the geese that feed and roost at night, in the barley fields around our house. We occasionally get other visitors as well which seem to like barley. (Poor farmer!) Mute swans sometimes come, have dinner, then doze in the comfortable crop.
I hope you all are safe and well.