Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

EVENTS over the past month have made me realise quite forcibly that I need to revise and adjust my thinking – even in areas where I felt I had some expertise. A mortifying but salutary lesson!

About 12 years ago I was happily engaged in a study of my garden hedgehogs. Several seemed to be visiting my garden and I carefully marked each visitor with spots of Tippex, watching each evening for 3 or 4 hours by the light of the backdoor security light (as they scoffed food I’d put out), noting my observations and trying to arrive at some knowledge of individual behaviours and even “characters”. It was enjoyable and revealing: there seemed to be definite rules of dominance, some animals were quite aggressive, others timid – and this had nothing to do with size. I watched the slow, laborious process of mating and the, fairly infrequent, examples of conflict generally resolved by barging and shoving. It was all very delightful and I got fond of these resolute, prickly little characters.

Everything changed one evening in 2009 when two badgers appeared from the dry ditch at the back of the lawn and began to gobble the hedgehog food. I was thrilled. However, it soon became apparent that as badger visits became regular, hedgehog visits decreased. From 2010 I saw no sign of hedgehog at all. As badgers are the only predator that can open up and devour a hedgehog and very much relish the experience I came to understand that you just couldn’t have both. A sad “truth” that I came to accept as the badger visitors became more numerous and more interesting.

For the last three years numbers of badgers have declined till I only have one “regular” and the occasional extra. Of course, hedgehog numbers nationwide have declined catastrophically as their preferred farmland habit of a patchwork of pastures, small woods and connecting hedges has disappeared. Gardens are important for them now – but using pesticides, decking and concreting over grass, and erecting impermeable boundaries have made these potential havens less viable. If it weren’t for the badgers, my garden could be a very hedgehog-friendly environment. But “You can’t have both” - or can you?

My recently acquired night-trail camera has made me think again. Recent footage has shown at least two badgers and, yes, probably three hedgehogs interleaving their overnight visits. Then, last week – a picture of both animals feeding together about two yards apart! Ah well! Changing one’s mind is – I tell myself – a sign of an attentive, reasonable human being!