Tuesday, 20 July 2021

A visit from a little Urchin (Mrs. or Mr. Tiggywinkle)

When we moved into our house in 2017 the back garden had very little in it that was green, apart from one very large Leylandii tree. Although it was quite a good sized garden, all the places where there might have been lawns, vegetable plots, shrubberies or flower-beds were covered in plastic sheeting with several tons of gravel on top and the rest was concrete or wooden decking.

Since then we've been gradually removing the gravel and the plastic and replacing it with greenery of one sort or another. We've now got two patches of lawn (mowed very infrequently and with some nice wildflowers in), a flowerbed, a small herb garden, a little raised veg bed and my 'wild area' complete with a (rather unusual) pond (see The Making of a Pond for more about the pond).

Since then we've seen lots of birds (including the Grey Wagtail mentioned in the blog about the pond), 73 species of moth and butterflies including Red Admiral and Small Copper. 

However, one thing I was pretty certain we were never going to see was Hedgehogs - we're in an area of mostly terraced houses with no gardens and moreover, our garden has high brick walls around most of it, and a busy road at the front.

So imagine my surprise when Sue and I were sitting outside on Sunday evening, enjoying a beer in the gathering dusk, and Sue suddenly said 'There's a Hedgehog'. It took me a few seconds to register what she was talking about as she surely couldn't be talking about an actual hedgehog in our actual garden. 

However, she was, and there sitting under the old wooden garden table on one of the remaining areas of gravel, was a Hedgehog. She or he had obviously come in from the front, through the gap under the fence  (which was just there by chance as we didn't deliberately put a gap in when we got the fence made). It stayed there for a few minutes and then shuffled off - we took our eyes off it and couldn't find it again. 

Mister or Mrs Tiggywinkle? - You can't tell easily from just looking at them

Back in April, Emma Walker, a local hedgehog enthusiast (she doesn't like being called an expert, although compared with me she is one),  had written this article (Hedgehogs in Spring) for The Tees Online website, and I remembered that she had mentioned having a special feeding-station in her garden for hedgehogs. 

One of Emma's Hedgehog visitors (photo by Emma Walker)

So yesterday I spent several hours in the afternoon constructing a Hedgehog Restaurant out of some spare wood we had lying around. I have to say that I am quite pleased with the results.

Me with the Black & Decker Jigsaw which made this
actually quite an easy job to do

Stage 1 completed - the frame with a nice little arched doorway

Stage 2 - the baffle is now in place to stop cats being
able to get at the food

Stage 3 - the lid. Just a single sheet of ply-wood held on by three strips of
rubber cut from an old pair of wellies

And what's on the menu - chef's specially selected dry catfood, with
a locally grown wine (okay - it's water) to wash it down

And the final touch - a heavy flower pot on the lid to stop cats being
able to just lift up the lid

The food dish this morning - showing clear evidence of having been
nibbled by something - hopefully a Hedgehog

And now you might be wondering about the slightly cryptic title of this blog-post. Let me explain - 'Urchin' is one of the old country-names that have been used for Hedgehogs in various parts of the UK and Ireland (others being Furze-pig and Hedge-pig). This also explains the origins of the name of the spiky seashore creature called the Sea Urchin. Our species, the European Hedgehog is actually one of 17 species in five different genera which are native to different parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. They are unrelated to the superficially similar Porcupines (which are rodents) and Echidnas (which are Monotromes - bizarre egg-laying mammals related to Duck-billed Platypuses).

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