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Is the hedgehog really becoming a rare sight.?

by Paul Cormacain

A FEW weeks ago a friend of mine discovered a hedgehog in his garden.

Because he lived in a built-up area he was surprised at his visitor. But I pointed out that this is a regular occurrence, with hedgehogs regularly turning up in this area.

I was able to quote that I had written about this phenomenon in the past.

It used to be true that the hedgehog was quite common, but as it is nocturnal it was not all that frequently seen. Now some experts are saying this animal is becoming rarer, so we may be lucky to see one.

Come to think of it, we used to see them more frequently in our garden than we do nowadays. I hope the experts are not right, it could happen that they are.

Hedgehogs have been close to humans for a long time. Old clever Aristotle wrote about them being domesticated in Europe since the 4th century BC, and the Romans had been utilising spiny hedgehog coats in their society.

They used them for hackling cloth and carding wool, and usage became so widespread there were fears about the conservation of the species.

So the Roman senate got in the act. They introduced legislation to regulate the destruction of the hedgehog, and it seems to me that this was the first piece of legislation specifically designed to help wildlife.

Perhaps we need some more legislation, or do we? According to James Fairley, local expert, very little is known about the hedgehog in Ireland, but it is believed to have undergone a large reduction in numbers about a hundred years ago.

In 1935 it was reported very scarce, but by 1975 it was believed to be common. And now there is another scare that says the hedgehog numbers are decreasing. But not fleas.

Spines and fleas are the two unpopular attributes of hedgehogs. The hedgehog flea, its scientific name is too daunting, is one of our larger fleas. You might think that the safe place on the animal would be among the spines, for what could penetrate the spines to get to the flea?

In fact, the soft underbelly is the preferred home. It is believed to be more humid and less draughty.

It is believed that frequently there may be about one hundred fleas on the average hedgehog. One was caught in England, it was examined by someone with patience and bravery as attributes. Nearly one thousand fleas were taken off the hedgehog, and that could well be some sort of horrible record.

Beasts examined in Ireland were a completely different kettle of fish. Only about 15 or 16 fleas inhabit the underbelly region. Perhaps we need someone with more patience, or bravery!

James Fairley says the hedgehog may have been introduced to Ireland to satisfy the palates of the gourmets. History seems to show the Romans may well have eaten hedgehogs, the animals have been domesticated for centuries in Europe, and it would be surprising if the ancients had not eaten them.

Stories are told of markets that sold large numbers of hedgehogs in England. For the table? But if you are overcome with a desire to eat hedgehog, pray desist. You may end up with a flea in your ear.

Coming Events


Saturday 20 - Guided woodland walk at Carnmoney Hill, 11.30, contact Woodland Trust on 028 9127 5787
Fermanagh RSPB outing to Pigeon Top, near Omagh, at 10am, talk with Doreen Morrison on 028 6632 6654

Monday 22 October Lisburn RSPB will have Neville McKee talking about the past and present Cop eland observatory, find out about this by phoning 028 9260 1864

Wednesday 24 October Sunday 4 November The pumpkins at Castle Espie have gone missing, and they are looking for volunteers to go find them. Phone Espie at 028 9187 4146

Thursday 25 October Birdwatch morning at Castle Espie, at 10.30am.

Friday 26-Saturday 27 October - Spooky snacks, story-telling, games with witches, Castle Espie, phone 028 9187 4146

Sunday 28 October Guided Walk at Sliabh Croob at loam, details from Mourne Heritage Trust, 028 4372 4059

Saturday 3-Sunday 4 November - Wild Bird Feeding in the garden, a practical two hours at 2pm, at Castle Espie, details from 028 9187 4146.

Sunday 4 November Would you like an 8 km dander at Donaghcloney at 2pm? If so, call Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on 028 3832 220

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