by John Pinel
DESPITE being such prickly creatures, there are few more delightful animals than hedgehogs.
They may have been living in Jersey in the distant past, but if they were they must have first gone extinct a long time ago. There are no known authors of natural history who have recorded hedgehogs in Jersey before the 19th century and we know that our current population was introduced sometime in the 1850s and have hung on here ever since.
Jersey’s remarkable naturalist Frances Le Sueur records that J Sinel, another naturalist writing in 1893, considered them to be common then, but he knew of no records of hogs before the 1850s. In 1895, at an executive meeting of the Société Jersiaise, G C Godfray is recorded as stating that his father had introduced hedgehogs to Jersey in 1857, the same year that the ferry boat service started between Jersey and Weymouth.
In 1908 Mr Sinel said that many hedgehogs had been brought to Jersey as pets from both France and England and it is highly possible that some of these escaped and established themselves in the Island’s countryside.
We don’t know what the current population of hedgehogs is in Jersey, but we know that they are widespread across the Island. The Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group hope that their proposed studies will identify the population in the next few years.
The organisation is a small charity that cares for hedgehogs. Like so many of Jersey’s environmental and charitable groups, it is run by a few dedicated volunteers and new helpers are always needed.
However, it is not a job for everyone. The hedgehogs often need specialist care due to the terrible injuries they receive from garden strimmers and vehicles. It is people with nursing and veterinary experience who are particularly needed in order to administer medicines as well as clear up poo.
Hedgehogs eat a wide range of slugs, snails, worms, beetles and insects and are a great asset to the gardener, as they devour pests. Writing in 1976, Mrs Le Sueur considered that there was a potential link between the increase in hedgehog numbers and the decline of toads in Jersey. It is more likely that declining toad numbers are related to our poor water quality, the loss of ponds and the fragmentation of habitats by roads, housing and other developments.
This loss of safe routes is an important factor in the decline of much of our Island’s wildlife. Fewer connections between habitats reduce animals’ opportunities to move from place to place safely, so they breed less and have fewer areas in which to feed.
This is one important opportunity we all have to help hedgehogs. By cutting a small 15cm-by-15cm hole in your fences or walls, you allow hedgehogs into your and your neighbours’ gardens. If every property in a housing estate has these small holes, then hedgehogs could travel easily from one place to another, bringing the joy of hedgehog spotting and a great predator of plant pests right into our own gardens.
You can see hedgehogs early in the evening all over the Island, and may encounter them snuffling through the leaves which lie at the edge of the road. Once on a road, it can be difficult for them to find a way off and they are very vulnerable to traffic accidents. Cars are probably the greatest cause of death to hedgehogs in Jersey, so remember to drive carefully at night.
If you do find an injured hedgehog, or a small, underweight one, you can call the JHPG and if someone is available they may be able to come and rescue it. Please don’t phone after dark though. It is best to put on some gloves and lift the spiky, curled-up hog into a cardboard box, together with some straw if you have it, and keep it somewhere cool and dry. Giving it a little dry dog or cat food, and a shallow dish of water, is the best that you can do for them until morning. If you are able, then please bring it to the JHPG at their base on Waterworks Valley, just up from Millbrook, on the right-hand side of the road.
Hedgehogs don’t milk cows like the folk tales tell, but surprisingly they can climb very well and people are often amazed to find them in seemingly difficult-to-access areas. Garden ponds and swimming pools with steep sides are a big threat to hogs and even though they can swim, a small ladder made of chicken wire up the side of such features will be of great help to them. Likewise, keeping nets and litter cleared away will stop them becoming tangled. Checking long grass before cutting will reduce the risk of injuries that garden tools cause.
The best thing that you can do for hedgehogs is to stop using chemicals in your garden and make a wild corner somewhere with a hedgehog box for them to shelter in. Because of that hole in your fence you might have many evenings of entertainment hog watching from the comfort of your own home.
John Pinel is interim chairman of the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group. You can find them on Facebook or visit their website for more information. Mr Pinel is also a freelance ecologist. In the past he has travelled widely, covering thousands of miles by bicycle but also building his own carbon footprint with international trips. He has had many jobs, from finance to pizza chef, including over 20 years in various environmental roles for the States of Jersey, the past ten as principal ecologist for the Environment Department. He is now active in a number of local and international non-governmental organisations and campaigns for social and environmental justice. Twitter: @johnepinel