Big thank you from

The worsening plight of the spiny coated hedgehog

by Paul Cormacain

THE hedgehogs have been out in force of late. And of course early.

I spoke to a number of hedgehogs who were walking around in the middle of the day, and told them that their mammies should have told them that they are nocturnal. They are supposed to come out at night! Might as well have talked to a snail, the hedgehogs kept appearing by day.

One set of neighbours asked me to remove an adult hedgehog in the middle of the day. It was in a corner of their garden, where they feared for its safety. As our garden is quite large, and it backs onto a, large area of land at the railway tracks, there is great scope for hedgehogs, and it was felt that this area would be safest for the wee creature.

A day or two later another adult hedgehog was found wandering about the street. The next day there was the same one, or another one, again wandering on the streets in broad daylight. Then the neighbours saw an adult, and on the same day two young hedgehogs turned up in our garden in broad daylight. I lectured them on the perils of daylight exposure, but to no avail.

Then there were sightings every day, sometimes of the young, at other times of the adult, or adults. They were going crazy, hedgehogs running about all over the place by day as well as by night. It was time to speak to the hedgehog experts.

I spoke to Vanessa Reavy, who knows a thing or two about hedgehogs, who is very concerned about their well-being, and who runs a hedgehog rescue centre.

She tells me that this small, spiny animal first appeared on earth about 15 million years ago, is still going strong, but has problems that may be increasing.

There are 55 species of mammals in Britain. In Ireland only 28 species managed to make it across from Europe before the Irish Sea threw up an impenetrable barrier. - One of the 28 is the hedgehog. But hang on there, what if the animal had been brought in by man?

One day, over a quarter of a century ago an ironmonger in beautiful Bournemouth in the south of England, discovered a hedgehog in a kettle. The kettle was in a consignment from Poland, and the thinking and the logic was that the hedgehog was a Polish one, and it had been brought to England by mistake.

If a European animal could be brought into England, why could not woman bring it into Ireland? Why could not the hedgehog have been introduced here for practical purposes?

James Fairley, local authority on Irish fauna, tells me how the hedgehog has been domesticated in Europe for centuries, from as long ago as the fourth century BC.

Because of the frequency of hedgehog sightings, I joked with my neighbours last week, "How about some hedgehog- stew?" Yet the pot was the fate of these animals over the years.

So what if 'someone had introduced hedgehogs as food?

The Romans at least used the spiny coat for hackling cloth. They had another use as well, the beast's spines were used for wool carding. So why not introduce hedgehogs here and make them work for their keep?

The creatures in our street were appearing more and more, out and about more and more in daylight, and this was a bad sign, a sign that the young were not getting enough food, and something was amiss with the adult.

Our next door neighbours found the mother and four young, but one of the young was sitting out in the rain, so they decided that things were getting serious, and phoned Vanessa Reavy, otherwise Hedgehog Rescue.

Vanessa and friend discovered the mother had an accident, a car perhaps, and had her face damaged to the extent that the blue bottles were laying their eggs in the sore.

She was undernourished, was not producing enough milk for the young, the young were weakening. She whipped them off to her rescue centre.

We searched the hedge between our two gardens for more young, but eventually decided that there were only four young in the family.

So we have a wonderful animal, the hedgehog, which may be attacked by cats, dogs, foxes, badgers, motor cars and strimmers. When they curl up, they are frequently safe from the animals, when a car is involved the results are usually fatal. Strimmers are more and more responsible for limb loss. So if you come across a damaged, hurt, or very unhappy, hedgehog, call Vanessa on 9079 0969

Coming Events

Each Saturday and Sunday in August - Guided tours at Castle Espie, 2,30, details from 91874146

Each day in August - Pondamonium, finding out about our water creatures, for example the creatures which feed the ducks at Espie. Phone 9187 4I46.

Each Sunday in August - Boat trip from Maghary Country Park Park to Coney Island, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, phone Oxford Island on 3832 2205.

Saturday 3 August - Butterfly Outing to Ness and Ervey Wood Country Park, contact Butterfly Conservation on 9258 4019

Saturday 4 August - Owls, owls, owls, at 1.30, more details 9187 4146

Saturday 3, Sunday 4 August - Wildlife 2002 at Oxford Island, a major wildlife event; and find out more by calling 3832 205

Saturday 11 August- `Tails' from an animal sanctuary, at Castle Es pie, 2pm, more from 9187 4146.

Monday 12 to Friday 16 August and Monday 19 to Friday 23 August - Children's Wildlife Summer School, Oxford Island, 2.30. Call 3832 2205.

Sunday I8 August - Have a look for grayling, silverwashed and dark green fritillaries, at 10.30, Belfast Hills, starting Belfast Castle car park. Contact Butterfly Conservation on 9077 5317

Thursday 29 August - Bat night at Colin Glen Forest Park, 9pm, details from 90614115

Saturday 31 August - Butterfly search in east Antrim, at 10.30, on lookout for blue, copper, peacock, fritillary, sounds great. Contact Butterfly Conservation, 9335 5565

Ulster Star