Would a resident hedgehog drive up your gas bill?
Fact of the week: The hedgehog population in the UK was an estimated 30 million strong in the 1950s. This has now fallen to less than 1 million.
I hadn’t realised that hedgehog comfort was such an divisive issue.
‘I have them in my garden,’ I told the man.
‘No one has them in their garden,’ he smirked. ‘They’re nomadic. Even if you do see them they’re just passing through.’ The abdominous individual wiped donut off his face and emptied the contents of his nose into a Gregg’s napkin.
‘Well, in that case they pass through my garden regularly,’ I said, quite put out. ‘I see them very often. I can at least make their stay more comfortable.’
‘They don’t pass through mine,’ he grunted.
‘I don’t blame them,’ I said, stifling disdain as he flicked a piece of donut at a bewildered pigeon.
‘Maybe if they had a place to stay they wouldn’t insist on merely passing through.’
As I sat impatiently at the bus stop, clinging to the wooden frame of the hedgehog house I’d just bought, fending off glances from those who thought I was hugging a dolls house, I tried to imagine the conversation I was going to have with my wife that evening. I’d just happily spent half of the week’s grocery budget on a wooden house to help hedgehogs.
‘Hedgehogs don’t need a house,’ the annoying man persisted. ‘They hibernate in winter and sleep under bushes in the summer.’
‘No one needs a house,’ I snapped. ‘But they shelter us from the wind, increase the chance of survival in harsh conditions and generally improve health and quality of life. Why should I deny hedgehogs the same luxury? I get a pleasure out of seeing them happy.’
Of course I had no idea what a happy hedgehog looked like. It didn’t wag its tail like a dog or brush up against my leg like the neighbour’s cat. I could bet what’s left of the grocery budget that climate change was making them pretty miserable though. I’d read a terrifying statistic that the hedgehog population of the UK had declined 95% since the 50s, from 30 million to just 1.5 million (in 1995).
Where my neighbour blamed Margaret Thatcher, a Dr Pat Morris who carried out research had blamed climate change. Could the hedgehog really die out within my lifetime? This thought had obliged me to act.
Hedgehogs hibernate between January and March, if they hibernate at all. The outside temperature should be a few degrees below freezing for a comfortable hibernation. In recent years, the temperature had fluctuated meaning they either didn’t hibernate or when they did they came out of it early. Basically this meant they ended up burning through fat reserves more quickly. If the temperature is too high, their metabolisms get faster burning up fat reserves. If the temperature is too low, their body uses fat reserves to keep warm. This in addition to the usual menace of increased agriculture in Britain and the usual hazards of being trapped in plastic bags and thrown out or eaten by badgers. It’s a hedgehog minefield out there.
I was determined to do my part to at least keep the garden variety hedgehog safe – if nowhere else but in my own garden.
‘Why bother?’ the irritating man persisted. ‘They’re not a keystone species.’
‘Neither are we,’ I snapped. ‘Anyway I like hedgehogs.’
‘Oh, that’s what it’s for,’ said a jovial young chap on my opposite side. ‘I thought it was a nativity. You know, like at Sunday school?’
‘Yes. I’m trying to convince this fellow that hedgehogs are important to our gardens.’
‘Oh, I love hedgehogs.’
‘Ah, finally,’ I beamed. A fellow enthusiast.
‘Yes, they’re hilarious. I used to pick up the little ones with oven mitts and throw them at the neighbour’s children.’
I nearly fell off the seat. ‘What does their father say about that?’
‘I don’t think hedgehogs have fathers,’ he said. ‘They spring out of the ground like gnomes.’
I came to realize he was trying to wind me up and pressed forward with my own thoughts. I still had to justify my recent purchase to my wife.
Finally I decided the best excuse was the truth and I would use feminism to convince her to support the cause. Male hedgehogs were like traditional guy-guys. The male hedgehog tended to go hibernate sooner because it could spend its time building up its own fat stores while the female looked after the offspring. A female hedgehog with a late litter would need to spend more time building up fat stores and would hibernate very late, perhaps risking her own survival. The image of the male hedgehog, fat and happy, climbing into bed while the female, dressed in an apron, tended to her brood with the cold winter winds lashing her in the face, would surely be enough to validate my purchase. A hedgehog house would give her a warm place to go when things got bad. This was a feminist issue.
‘I think it’s quite silly myself,’ the gutt-bucket persisted. ‘Free range eggs, now we have chickens running around. Next it’ll be houses for hedgehogs, squirrels, bats. Where’s it all going? They’ll want running water next and other utilities. What happens if one of the hedgehogs leaves the gas on? Have you ever asked yourself this question?’
I hadn’t, to be honest with you. The only question I was really asking myself right now was why I’d been stupid enough to take a hedgehog house home on a bus when I could’ve gotten one from EthicalSuperstore.com and had it delivered to my door.
I got home eventually, content with my hedgehog house. Unfortunately my wife wasn’t a feminist. How could I have possibly bought a hedgehog house when I could have bought 3 whole tubs of Fairtrade coffee for the same price?
‘Well,’ I said. ‘It makes the hedgehogs happier.’