No Surprises Living in Devizes: In the hedges

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An African dwarf hedgehog - cute but not necessarily a good pet


DEVIZES, oh Devizes; with plans so exuberant and bold but without a greater populace or infrastructure to support them; it’s a recurring theme, writes DARREN WORROW.

Oh no, off he marches in the wake of debate, and the enticements of Wiltshire Council, he’s going to feed us his wonky whinge on the parking charges deliberation.

Quite the contrary friends, I’ve said my piece. As much as I’d like to see cars in the Market Place replaced by a bustling market of brightness, fresh aromas and the sound of jollity, I fear the reality it’ll become barren, with only the odd tumbleweed blowing through, as we simply don’t have the population, or attraction to support such an idea. Besides, ’tis but a smear to convince us WC are our friends. If whacking up parking charges is how they can pay for the failing pubic transport, services and their new conservatories, they will.

I’m leaving it to the experts. I’m on the other side of town Thursday evening instead, chatting to a guy in his garage while his wife is inside. He tells me there’s a lot of blondes in Rowde.

Now, whoa, I know what you’re thinking; typical, two married guys pretending they’re God’s gift, acting like a pair of smutty teenagers or Viz contributors,  well let me stop you right there, we were talking hedgehogs.

Did you know they do hedgehogs in blonde now? I was stunned. But what this guy, Ian Hunt and his wife Joy don’t know about hedgehogs you could write on the back of a matchbox in supersized font.

As a milkman hedgehogs are my work buddies. But, you know how it goes, how well do you really know your colleagues, have you taken the time to chat on a personal level? I tend not to talk to hedgehogs too often, save yelping “jeepers where did you spring from?” or words to that effect, when they magically appear millimetres away from my boots.

It occurred my appointed first aid certificate is void in a close encounter of the hedgehog kind, and I had not a Scooby-Doo of the appropriate action I’d take should a near miss result in injury to the spiky creature.

I noticed a shared post upon a social network, apparently we have a hedgehog rehabilitation centre right here in old Devizes. Blissfully unaware, I was intrigued and thought some exposure of the good work they do would assist them gaining attention. However, I was wrong. For Devizes being Devizes, it’s less “centre” and more household/garage hobby of Ian and Joy, who both work full time on top of caring for some 30+ hedgehogs.

They’ve been up to this over five years now, after Joy spotted one of these wonderful creatures in distress in her garden.

Rather than promoting this brilliant facility, as it seems it gets more than it can handle, and sometimes has to refuse hedgehogs advising them to be sent to vets or larger facilities in places like Thatcham.

A lot of the calls they recieve from caring people are unnecessary though, Ian explained, so the angle I’m taking is how to relieve Joy and Ian of the workload by identifying exactly when a hedgehog needs attention, and when it’s fine trundling on, going about its business.

Hedgehogs don’t hibernate like bears, they’re prone to waking in the winter, but when I arrived they were all fast-o. If you see one out in the day, hurrying to the bushes, do not panic, often they can be disturbed by noise. If you perchance to see a mother with babies rustling about, it’s foraging in training, no need for concern. Only take action if the hedgehog is wandering sluggishly, looking rather lost, or are pale in colour. They could be injured or unwell.

Ian explained badgers are the only creature strong and mental enough to try take a hedgehog, but they’re prone to traffic incidents and parasite infection. Best thing, if certain it’s troubled, is pick it up (with gardening gloves) and place it in a large box, they climb so insure it has high sides. Wrap a hot-water-bottle in a tea-towel and slip it close, allowing enough space for it to move away or closer at will. You should give it water, but not milk. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, but will still lap milk until sick. You can try feed it meat-based pet food, but fish is rarely in their diet.

Once settled, if concerned you need to call the experts, Joy, or a vet who’ll advise you. Check them for flystrike; myiasis is a parasitic infestation by fly larvae. They’ll appear like tiny grains of rice under the folds of their legs or bottom. Should you see these signs it’s important to call the experts urgently.

For Ian explained our affection for hedgehogs can be damaging, I noted a video off Facebook where an American guy had taken one on as a pet. Some have the African Pygmy breed as pets.

This isn’t illegal in the UK but they don’t make for good pets.

“They can be decidedly grumpy,” Ian tells me, “and live separately.”

Seems that although hedgehogs aren’t territorial, they take an organised routes around their fairly large neighbourhoods avoiding bumping into each other.

I was beginning to consider similarities to hedgehogs and myself, nocturnal, keep themselves to themselves, cute but spiky on the edges, but when he mentioned they were grumpy by their nature, well, c’est la vie.

So petting them is not good for them, or your fingertips. Ian said people ask if they can take one home, they have large walled gardens. Only with kind intentions, it’s not acceptable, as a hedgehog needs to make his own space, they need to be wild. If you don’t see hedgehogs in your area, it’s for good reason.

Attempting to attract a hedgehog to your garden is one thing, leave water out for them, cat food will only get pinched by cats, but always insure the hedgehog has clear access to and from your garden; otherwise it’s bordering on captivity.

Seems a shame a fulltime charitable facility is not available here for hedgehog rescue, but the work and effort Joy and Ian put in is indisputable and remarkable. They have a dining room full, all in need of medical attention and the garage is rehab, one nearly ready for release back to the wild, which next to 100% will happen eventually.

Keen to add taking care of hedgehogs is very specialised and you shouldn’t attempt to take on such an activity. Joy and Ian have undergone much study and courses to be equipped enough to cater for these bizarre and beautiful little mounds of spikes. But the biggest respect to them for the patience and time they serve to them. I certainly came away from there more enlightened.

Hedgehogs are endangered to the degree there’s far less of them now as when I was younger, Ian continued, but although the likelihood of them becoming extinct is low, still we have a duty to protect these fascinating spiky fellows and insure we’re doing them alright.

Phew, a nice column this week for a change; normal service will be resumed!

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