top of page
  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Prickles in a Pickle

A visit to the Hedgehog Rescue and Wildlife Centre, Stoke Fleming, South Devon.


For many years Judy Oliphant and her husband Alan have been bringing injured animals and birds back to their home in this small South Devon village, to nurse them back to health and release them back into the wild. Over the years, it increasingly became more about hedgehogs than any other sort of creature.


And by accident, the hedgehog hospital she runs, was born. It now rescues between 1000 and 1400 hedgehogs a year. This was a huge surprise to me, when I arrived to photograph the set up. I had expected maybe five or six animals, I hadn't expected walls of cages, all housing hedgehogs in various states of health and care, up to 170 at any one time.


"We started very small about 15 years ago, and since then it has grown and grown along with our experience and knowledge and this continues to build every day. We work closely with Dart Vale Vets who are just amazing and very supportive. We also have veterinary students on placement this year and we have a constant stream of Duke of Edinburgh students."


The animals are all rescued by members of the public and brought to Judy's home, where they are housed in a wrap around conservatory and double garage.


"At the moment we nurse them at home and have facilities to soft release them prior to returning them to the wild. We always try to return them back to where they were found or as close as possible. Sometimes this is not possible and we have to find an alternative site.

We firmly believe that all wild creatures are just that, wild."


"Most Hedgehogs are found by people, alerted to unusual behaviour, when they see a hedgehog out during the day. Many have serious visible injuries due to traffic incidents, dog/animal attacks, garden machinery incidents with strimmers, lawn mowers, garden spades and forks. Others are simply displaying unusual behaviour which can be for a variety of reasons such as dehydration, poisoning, starvation, internal parasites or a concealed injury."


Hedgehogs share distant ancestry with shrews, and they have changed little over the last fifteen million years. Like many of the first mammals, they have adapted to a nocturnal way of life.


The name hedgehog came into use around the year 1450, derived from the Middle English heyghoge, from heyg, hegge ("hedge"), because it frequents hedgerows, and hoge, hogge ("hog"), from its piglike snout.


Judy explained that the territory of hedgehogs is quite marginal as they live in hedgerows and not in woods or open fields. During the 20th century many thousands of miles of ancient hedgerows were removed in Britain to create larger fields, thus removing large areas of habitat. As a consequence hedgehogs are in serious decline,they are critically endangered, on the red list, and are now officially vulnerable to extinction.


Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, do not easily detach from their bodies. However, the immature animal's spines normally fall out as they are replaced with adult spines. This is called "quilling". Spines can also shed when the animal is diseased or under extreme stress.


Hedgehogs are usually brown, with pale tips to the spines, though blonde hedgehogs are found on the Channel Island of Alderney.


When the hedgehogs arrive, "The details of all hedgehogs are recorded, and they are given a name – an identity. Also recorded are the details of the finder and where they were found so they can be returned once treated. An injury assessment is conducted, and treatment will begin immediately. They will be weighed and given water. If appropriate, they will be offered food, medication as necessary and placed in a fleecy nest bed. Small hogs or those that are really poorly may need to be incubated (for warmth) and given antibiotics and pain relief. Judy will closely observe all newcomers and often sits up all night to feed or monitor the sickest hedgehogs."


All species of hedgehogs can roll into a tight ball in self-defense, causing all of the spines to point outwards. The hedgehog's back contains two large muscles that control the position of the quills. When the creature is rolled into a ball, the quills on the back protect the tucked face, feet, and belly, which are not quilled.


All wild hedgehogs can hibernate, though not all do, depending on temperature, species, and abundance of food.


Although traditionally classified in the now abandoned order Insectivora, hedgehogs are omnivorous. If you feed hedgehogs in your garden, use a shallow bowl for water but never give them milk or any milk based product. Hedgehog food is now widely available from pet shops. To help a sick hedgehog you can also feed it a small amount of meaty cat or dog food, before seeking help.

 

Judy says...."We have 34 volunteers from all walks of life, including a magistrate, ecologist, several trained nurses including me! Vet nurse, RSPCA inspector(retired), and many more. We also have a volunteer transport group. Usually the morning work is about 4 hours and then there is an evening person for about an hour and a half."


"Our longest serving volunteer has been here for about 4 years. Volunteers tend to stay with us a long time which is brilliant and also when they leave tend to go on to careers with animals or environment or similar or quite simply life changes."


This is Lydia, one of the large team of volunteers. Lydia is measuring out the food for the day.


In Britain, the main predator is the European badger. European hedgehog populations in the United Kingdom are lower in areas where badgers are numerous, and British hedgehog rescue societies will not release hedgehogs into known badger territories.


Hedgehogs roam between 1-2 Km each night during the active season. This means it is important that they can move freely between gardens in urban areas. There are quite a few simple things you can do to make your garden hedgehog friendly, and don't forget that the hedgehog is the gardener's friend.


Create wild areas where you can, any additional small area helps. Allow vegetation to grow, allow garden litter to gather, create piles of compost or small logs which encourage insects and worms.


If you have a garden pond check that it has shallow areas with sides that are not steep and make a ramp where hedgehogs can drink without falling in, or where they can crawl out if they do. Make sure drains are covered, as hedgehogs are very curious and can fall into them.


Avoid using soft netting in the garden as hedgehogs can become entangled in it very easily.


Minimise or stop the use of pesticides where possible as these can end up in the hedgehog food chain.


Most importantly, when working in the garden, be aware of where there could be hedgehogs hidden from view. Many are injured in innocent gardening accidents. If you light bonfires, be aware that if you create a bonfire and leave it before lighting, you have created the perfect hedgehog nest.


If you have pets, be aware that they can harm hedgehogs. In particular if you let your dog into the garden at night, put the light on for a few minutes first to give the hedgehog a chance to take cover. A dog may well attack a hedgehog causing serious injury.


Out in the garden at the hedgehog hospital are the houses where recovered hedgehogs live before being re-wilded.


Hedgehogs have a relatively long lifespan for their size. Larger species of hedgehogs live 4–7 years in the wild (some have been recorded up to 16 years).


How do you know a hedgehog may need your help?


As hedgehogs are nocturnal, seeing one in daylight is a telltale sign that it may be sick. A sick hedgehog may be lethargic, thin, dehydrated and have breathing problems. Chest infections are a particular issue. A sign of dehydration is the eyes. Healthy hedgehogs as in these photos have very wet looking protruding eyes. A dehydrated hedgehog will have dry sunken eyes or closed eyes.


A sick hedgehog may be wobbly or unsteady on their feet. Baby hedgehogs seen in daylight between September and April, may need help as it may be that their nest has been destroyed or their mother killed. In this case phone the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice on 01584 890801.


Below is the indoor barn area in a nearby field where other hedgehogs are given sheltered accommodation before re-wilding. Hedgehogs are not true hibernators and will wake up in winter if they get hungry or thirsty.


Outside in the wildlife field is an enclosure where hedgehogs are naturalised back into the wild. This pile of logs covers a nest.


"Once recovered from their various ailments and injuries, the Hogs have to reach a certain weight before release and this is variable depending on the time of the year. The closer they get to ending their stay at Prickles in a Pickle, the less human contact they have so they are prepared for their life once again in the wild. We rely on the behaviour of our local hedgehogs to let us know when to stop releasing them in the Autumn and Winter: once they start to become inactive or hibernate in the wild, we stop releasing until the weather improves and the availability of natural food sources increases. After this time, all hedgehogs stay with us and are overwintered until the Spring."


"The treatment and care of the sick and poorly hedgehogs is expensive. In the past, Judy and Alan have borne most of the expense, but Prickles in a Pickle has grown so much in recent years and is now so busy that in order to provide rescue and rehabilitation for the increasing numbers, fundraising is underway so that a new hospital room can be built. Donations and help is needed to improve the facilities and to continue the wonderful and vital rescue work started by Judy and Alan." Donations page.


Judy proudly showed me this pipette, which was her first foray into hedgehog rescue all those years ago, and was used on her first patient to help it drink.


Currently the hospital also has four blind hedgehogs. This is not uncommon and where possible, blind hedgehogs are also re-homed in suitably prepared, enclosed, large gardens offered for that purpose by members of the public. A blind hedgehog can continue a virtually normal life if kept in an enclosed, protected habitat, free from predators and natural dangers.

At the far end of the wildlife field Judy and Alan have created a small corner for a pond to provide more habitat for different creatures.


"Once fully repaired the hedgehogs are released back into the wild where they belong, to live a productive life and hopefully prevent the further decline in hedgehog numbers."


This is the setting of the wildlife field below, where some hedgehogs roam freely after release. If you want to play a small part in returning a wounded or sick hedgehog to this pretty scene once they are fully recovered, and you have enjoyed reading this blog, then please go to the donations page at Prickles in a Pickle and help in any way you can.


Thank you.


265 views6 comments

Related Posts

See All

6 Yorum


Lydia Barnard
Lydia Barnard
22 Oca 2023

Great article, but the phone number for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society is incorrect, it should read 01584 890801. Hopefully anyone needing it will have enough info to find it.

Beğen
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
22 Oca 2023
Şu kişiye cevap veriliyor:

Thanks for pointing that out I have changed it now.🙂


Beğen

Bilinmeyen üye
22 Oca 2023

Wow! Who knew that so many hedgehogs are needing care. I believe your hedgehogs are slightly different looking than ours. Yours seem to have a longer snout than ours, at least longer than the one we had. You did a great job with your captures and of course your research/commentary. I believe you have found your calling, first the violin craftsman, now the hedgehog whisperer...what's next? I am not being facetious, very sincere, I think you need to look around for more occasions like these. To me, they are very interesting. Thanks for the share as always 😉

Beğen
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
22 Oca 2023
Şu kişiye cevap veriliyor:

Thanks Camellia. I have some ideas in the pipeline.😉

Beğen

John Durham
John Durham
22 Oca 2023

A wonderful service from a saintly person.

Beğen
Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
22 Oca 2023
Şu kişiye cevap veriliyor:

Indeed.

Beğen
bottom of page