The time is very near for our prickly friends to look for a nice dry site to spend the winter months. Hopefully they will have put on enough weight to see them through their hibernation.
The one in my photo has a long way to go as you can see by the size of it compared to a ten pence piece, but it was taken earlier in the year so it should be okay by now. It was timid at first but soon unfurled itself and took a small worm from my hand and ate it with relish, then went on its way foraging for more food. Nowadays the sightings of hedgehogs are mostly as squashed corpses on the road, but this does not seem to have a big effect on the population that can be seen around the island away from roads, as not a day passes from spring to autumn without seeing at least one of them. Recently they have had bad press as they have been accused of decimating areas of ground nesting birds on a Scottish island which many years ago had no hedgehogs at all but some were taken there by a person to deal with the slugs in their garden.
They soon did just that then multiplied and took over the island and looked upon eggs as easy pickings. This in turn is having a drastic effect on the bird population, and is causing great concern. That hedgehogs eat eggs is a well-known fact, no one is disputing that. Birds over the years will adapt to new ways to safeguard their eggs. E.g. laying on ledges that the hedgehogs can’t climb to. On trees? A few species that for many years nested on the ground have now taken to trees. It is when you take a predator to an island that has no natural predator, and then you will soon have a problem. I suppose it is like having one or two foxes on the island. They are not much of a problem at first as there is plenty of food for them to eat. Rabbits, hares, etc. But if they multiply , then years from now there may be very little rabbits etc. for them to survive so they will look for food elsewhere, then they will present the same problem that the hedgehogs are causing, only they may turn to other easy pickings like lambs, poultry etc.
The same thing may happen if they re-introduce wolves to Scotland. Wolves were in Scotland many years ago, and fed on red deer and anything else that they could get there fangs into. But at that time there were no sheep. What if after a few years some of them escape? Then we have a big problem. Sheep would be seen as easy pickings for them, as would human beings. Would you go walkies over the hills and glens of Bonnie Scotland if you knew that wolves were on the loose? It is the same for the ground nesting birds on that Scottish island. For many years they had no problems with incoming threats to their existence. Now that they have they may soon have to change their ways, but this cannot be done overnight, it may take many generations to effect this, and by that time it may be too late, there may be none left.
They need a big hand, and the only solution that they seem to have at the moment to cull the hedgehogs, and that is causing lots of problems with hedgehog lovers who want them left alone. Maybe sterilization is the answer as a long term effect. I hope that they will come up with an answer that will keep everyone happy? Back to our wee prickly friend. Quite a few people uplift one of them from the roadside to clear their gardens of slugs. Remember that if you do this make sure that you do not uplift a fully grown adult as it may be suckling its family they will soon eat the slugs and will then look for a way out. They are good climbers but some fences are too much for them to handle. Some dog food will keep them happy for a couple of days and will still eat any stray slug from adjacent gardens. After this please take them back to where you found them. Many a poor one has been found at the bottom of a garden seemingly gone into hibernation, but in fact has died through the lack of food. Maybe it would be safer to use the upturned pot on a stick or the dish full of beer for the slugs? It will soon be time for bonfires to be built, so any wood etc. that you have earmarked for burning put a small fence around it so they can't get into it. If no fence has been used please check for hibernators. Uplift them put into a box lined with dry material that does not contain anything that will harm them. Put the box into a corner without any heating and leave until the spring, checking for any movement from time to time. After their long sleep give them some water and a feed of dog food and decide where you are going to release them, firstly checking the long range forecast in case there may be frost about. If so hold on to them until the weather improves.
First Published in the Buteman 13-09-2002
Since then, they were captured and released on the mainland.
As of now 04-02-2013, there are now plenty of foxes on Bute, with many being shot, and a few ran over, and I myself found two on the roadside verge within a short distance of each other last week.