words and pictures by Peter Hanscomb
The European hedgehog , Erinaceus europaeus is not only one of Britain’s favourite small mammals , it’s also one of the oldest , first evolving over fifteen million years ago. Once a common sight in our towns and villages the hedgehog in now under serious decline and threat from development and habitat loss and the use of modern pest control methods. This small spine covered nocturnal mammal is a regular unmistakable visitor to urban gardens and park-lands throughout the spring and summer. Widespread throughout the British mainland and most of western Europe , the European hedgehog is one of 17 species of hedgehog found worldwide.
The Hedgehog is around 20 – 26cm in length , and can weigh between 500g and 2Kg. A hedgehog must build up a reserve of body fat during autumn in order to survive the winter hibernation period . Any animal less than 500g at the beginning of hibernation is unlikely to survive the winter. The hedgehog is covered in around 7000 quills or spikes , the animals main defence against predators. These are attached to a single muscle that can move the spikes in the direction of an aggressor.
The Hedgehog is known in the U.K. As the gardeners friend , in part because of it’s diet of garden pests such a slugs , snails and insect. It used to be considered a culinary delicacy by the British travelling community and baked in clay , thankfully this was a long time ago. It also features in British folklore, literature and British tradions. Probably the most famous example is Beatrix Potters The Tales of Mrs Tiggy Winkle first published in 1906. Hedgehogs make an appearance at the mad hatters tea party in Alice in Wonderland and pass a striking resemblance to the Wombles of Wimbledon Common , a much loved series of books and children’s TV program from the 1970’s. Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog made his debut in the gaming world in 1991 and still remains a firm favourite.