The statistics are truly worrying. Between 2001 and 2009 about a third of this country’s population of Erinaceus Europaeus simply vanished. Not the victims of aliens from outer space, nor of a new deadly virus or plague for which there is no known cure. They have not been wiped out by armed conflict, famine or policies of power-crazed dictators. They have simply slipped away as result of a combination of causes. Causes which are low-level in themselves, but which are apparently deadly when combined. An increase in road traffic, the loss of natural habitat, industrial chemical spraying of crops and downright human indifference, ignorance, selfishness and carelessness.
Because we are, of course, talking about the plight of the common or garden European hedgehog, beloved of so many of us. Mrs Tiggywinkle, Sonic and other less well known of their brethren are under threat and few humans seem to know what to do about it. There is no lack of goodwill. Plenty of folk seem content to take injured animals to vets, RSPCA centres and the like. But in reality, apart from treating the ones that have a chance and subsequently returning them to the wild, whilst destroying the too-badly injured ones, that’s as far as it goes.
Or rather that’s as far as it has gone until now. The problem is knowledge. To be more precise, the problem is a lack of knowledge about how the little critturs live. We know how they die in their thousands. Returning them to the wild only saves a minute proportion of them. The steady decline in numbers, typically a fifth of the population in every four year cycle, continues unabated. Evidently it is time that someone does something about it before it is too late and the animals we love so much, but rarely ever see, disappear for ever.
On the evening of Saturday 17th November Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Society (SWCC) officially opened its new Hedgehog Hospital. It was a bash-with-panache: music by Carolyn Causton and Claire Robson, a hedgehog art auction (that’s pictures of hedgehogs, not by them), magic by a lookalike Harry Potter, wine tasting courtesy of Yapp Brother Wines and even themed cupcakes with Hedgehog icing. This typically English village fête atmosphere tended to obscure the serious part of the ceremony where some ground-breaking technology was introduced and a new utterly scientific approach to hedgehog conservation was explained.
Established in March 2011 SWCC has moved swiftly. The new hospital, complete with bespoke facilities, will not only deliver state-of-the-art care but also embark on a programme of research and data capture which will better inform the experts’ understanding of the conservation issues.
Essentially, the same attention to detail currently afforded to white rhinos and snow leopards will be afforded to the humble hedgehog. Each animal returned to its natural habitat will be tagged and monitored, tracked by a specially devised GPS system. Information will be gathered over a period of time and a database constructed to further analyse the problems. Each dead animal brought into the hospital and each one that dies on-site will be subjected to post mortem examination to ascertain other necessary details. This new approach should provide the scientific and other special interest communities with the information they need to protect this at risk species.
From the outside looking in, it is superficially easy to wonder whether it is really worth the thousands of pounds along with the hours and hours of time it must have taken to get the initiative off the ground. But of course it is. However specific special interest groups may be in their focus, it is exactly that specificity which allows diversity to survive in this ever-increasingly homogeneous world we live in. So ‘Bravo’ say I and if you are minded to donate to the cause then visit the website at http://www.sheprethwildlifepark.org