In this series of Blogs we look to breakdown some of the jargon used in biodiversity, sustainability and conservation. In the first of such blogs we look at blue carbon.
What is it?
Blue carbon is the carbon captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems though you may hear the term ‘sequestered’ being used for this. The species and ecosystems that capture and store the most carbon are:
Figures suggest that up to ten times more carbon is captured and stored by these ecosystems than a rainforest per unit area. However we are now realising that there are many more habitat types within the ocean environment that are important for carbon storage and these include thick muds, maerl reefs and many more. Acting as net carbon ‘sinks’ these ecosystems have a role to play in the mitigation of climate change. These ecosystems also provide essential services including coastal protection, food production and sustainable livelihoods and providing important habitats for marine life.
There IUCN estimate that 83% of global carbon is circulated through the oceans, with coastal habitats only covering 2% of the total ocean area but storing 50% of the total carbon sequestered in ocean sediments (source: IUCN).
What is the issue?
Human activities such as commercial fishing / direction exploitation of organisms, land use change / degradation, pollution, invasive species can damage these areas leading to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contribute to climate change. These activities also lead to a loss of biodivesity and ecosystem service provision.
It is estimated that Mangroves are being lost at a rate of 2% per year, tidal marshes at 1-2% per year and sea grass beds are diminishing by 1.5% per year despite active planting programmes.
What can be done?
Dedicated conservation programmes can be established to halt the decline in coastal habitats. These can include creating marine protected areas (MPAs), however the pressing issue is to halt the destruction of these ecosystems through education, delivering sustainable livelihoods, engaging with local communities and promoting the importance of these ecosystems. Relying solely on the creation of MPAs is not enough and we need to manage human behaviour and their activities that disrupt and damage these fragile ecosystems before it becomes too late to halt the loss and destruction.
So, we are nearly at the end of 2021 and it’s been an interesting, if not slightly frustrating year. In the UK we started the year off in lockdown and at the end of the year the pandemic is still with us. During 2021 the world also experienced economic shocks, supply and demand problems; with phrases such as ‘build back better’ and ‘build back greener’ becoming common place.
2021 also saw a raft of reports pressing home the message that we need to act now about climate change and reversing the decline in biodiversity loss – with most saying we have nine years to sort the issues out or we will be past the tipping point. The joint report from IPBES-IPCC spoke about the two issues intertwined for the first time – a blessing to those of us involved in both conservation and sustainability. The first draft of the post-2020 GlobalBiodiversity Framework was published in July 2021 and to be honest did not seem to contain the in depth targets and initiatives that were hoped for.
During September we had the launch of the Taskforce on Nature Related Financial Disclosure, this initiative has developed quickly and is another reminder to companies that both nature and climate change need to be accounted for in their operations.
In the Autumn, IUCN held their congress both in Marseilles and on line with some great speakers and engaging topics, following this came COP15 – the first of the two part conference of parties – Convention of Biological Diversity which was held in China. The second part of COP 15 is due to be held from April 28th to May 8th 2022.
The world held its breath as COP 26 took place in Glasgow, two weeks of tough discussions and a general feeling that more action was needed rather than just hot air and promises. It probably didn’t help that a certain president was filmed apparently asleep during talks or that a certain prime minister allegedly flew back to London for an evening meal. At times the voices outside of the conference were a lot louder than the arguments inside the conference, though I suspect glueing your hands to a motorway and causing chaos doesn’t help the protest groups win total sympathy !
On the other hand the text of the Glasgow Climate Pact, even if the language used softened in places from previous drafts, did contain the first mention of fossil fuels. The final document calls for parties to accelerate towards “the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. Both China and the USA issued a joint statement confirming their drive to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and implementing the Paris agreement. The commitment to stop deforestation was welcomed but the deadline of 2030 has been widely condemned as it gives countries the scope to carry on as normal for now and also it is not the first time countries have pledged to stop deforestation or that 2030 has been used as a target,
For me, three key aspects stood out from all of the discussions and presentations at COP26:
We need systemic change and well as political change, and to work systemic change needs to be driven from the grass roots upwards and also the top down.
We need to listen to and engage with indigenous knowledge more often and use this knowledge to drive change , both behavioural and political change.
There needs to be more engagement with youth groups and the youth voice, both at a grass roots level and within the leading global organisations such as IUCN, UN, CBD and governments etc.
So where does that leave us……. at the end of 2021 we are still heading for a global temperature change in excess of 1.5ºC despite all of the pledges. Climatic extremes are still causing loss and devastation, people are still starving and biodiversity is still being lost at an unparalleled rate……… However there is a glimmer of light, systemic change is starting to be made, people are aware of the plight this planet is in, people understand they do have a voice to be heard and are making that voice heard. Changes can be made, even if they are small changes and we always say that many small changes add up to a larger and greater amount of positive change. 2022 is going to be a positive year for the environment and on that note we wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.
The 30 by 30 campaign was conceived in 2018/19 to protect 30% of the planets terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in a natural state via protected areas or other effective conservation mechanisms, indigenous and community led conservation projects. The strategy consists of three areas: Building political support, ensuring local and indigenous support and boosting funding for nature conservation. In 2020 the UK committed to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2020.
Over 70 countries have now signed up to this initiative but is it too late? We, as the human race are on a perilous journey towards our extinction and a wake up call needs to happen and be listened to. Human pressure on biodiversity is increasing and human caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people and society. We have crossed a number of nature based tipping points and are rapidly heading towards further climatic and biodiversity tipping points. This wake up call has gone out on numerous occasions lately, from the state of the planet report through to the latest IPBES-IPCC report, all saying we have nine years or less left to sort out the issues with climate change and loss of biodiversity. We are currently loosing species from the planet at a rate of 1000 times higher than natural processes and if biodiversity is in crisis then we as a species are in crisis. Biodiversity loss and climate change are linked and our existance is at stake if we continue on the path that has been set. Professor E.O Wilson summed this up by saying “we need ants to survive, but they don’t need us at all“
Changes need to happen, not small changes but transformational changes – goods, services and infrastructure need to become more aligned with climate change and nature. We are part of nature, dependant on nature . We can’t live without nature and we need to recognise this at all levels from individuals, through indigenous peoples to governments and worldwide institutions.We need to treat climate, biodiversity and human society as coupled systems and not individual entities. The world may be going down a drain, but there is hope – the world is starting to come together, to fight and protect the planet. Voices are suddenly being heard, the planet in peril has invoked a response, but is it too late……..
Not all slugs are bad – introducing the Leopard slug (Limax maximus)
More than a few British gardeners have some choice words when you mention slugs and snails and they have a myriad of ways to try and stop them from munching on their flowers and vegetables. From slug pellets to copper strips, beer traps to nightly collection and dispatch, the war on our slimy molluscs has raged for centuries. Not surprising really when the average garden may contain up to 20,000 slugs!
However, there is a hero in the slug world – the Leopard Slug. Ok so they don’t wear a cape like your traditional ‘super’ hero, but they are beneficial to the garden and gardeners. Unlike other slugs, the Leopard slug feeds on detritus and other slugs, reaching speeds of up to 15cm per minute when in pursuit of other slugs!
Despite the name, Limax maximus is not our largest slug and on average reaches about 15cm. It is a member of the family Limacidae, the keeled slugs. First described England by Martin Lister in 1678 (though it had been noted 12 years earlier by physician Christopher Merett) it is native to Europe and the Mediterranean and is a common slug found in diverse habitats such as woodlands, gardens and basements. Mainly nocturnal, they can be seen in daylight when it’s raining, warm and overcast. Their diet can be quite varied and includes detritus, algae, dying plant parts, carrion, other slugs and their eggs. The leopard slugs have also been seen to reduce the number of other slug species within the garden and therefore are beneficial to the gardener.
Mating between leopard slugs is a sight to behold, they twit their bodies together and mate in mid-air whilst suspended from a mucous string attached to a plant or another surface. Once entwined both slugs push out enormous penises from openings on the side of their heads and as the slugs are hermaphrodites they fertilise each other’s eggs whilst in this mating position. After mating up-to 200 eggs are laid which develop into tiny white slugs. Some of the sperm may be stored to use another time or may end up being eaten by the slug.
We have quite a healthy colony of leopard slugs in our garden, mainly living in the compost bins, they are fascinating animals and interesting to study, especially as they have been shown to exhibit associative learning and is capable of aversion learning. For instance, the slug shows aversion to food that has deficiencies in its nutrition content, that may be toxic or food that has been poisoned. More specifically these slugs can exhibit taste aversion which occurs after ingesting food that causes nausea or vomiting.
So if you come across leopard slugs in your garden or allotment, try to welcome these slug ‘super heroes’ and not take the normal gardeners actions……..
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – Lao Tzu
In the last blog we started looking at how connecting with nature can help with mental illness and wellbeing. The concept of ‘forest bathing’ has become a trendy topic in recent years with numerous research articles and other publications extolling the benefits of being immersed in a forest environment. Forest bathing is now best described as a Japanese method of relaxation and is known as ‘shinrin yoku‘.
‘Shinrin’ means “forest’ and ‘yoku’ literally means “bath”, so Shinrin-yoku translates as ‘bathing in the forest’. At its most basic level it is simply being in nature , connecting with it using our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Although not a new idea, in fact if you go back about 20 years we were running ‘earth walks’ based on similar principles and ideas, the idea of forest bathing has gained popularity through articles in the mainstream press, medical journals and linking in with ‘green prescriptions’ from the GP.
If you are new to the idea of forest bathing, the Forestry England has a simple guide on how to make the most of your forest bathing ‘experience’ (your guide to forest bathing). The ideas behind forest bathing can be applied to any natural setting, for instance a walk along a beach or a stroll in the mountains.
There are four pillars or domains of mindfulness:
Mindfulness of the body ( kata )
Mindfulness of feelings or sensations ( vedanta )
Mindfulness of mind or consciousness ( citta )
Mindfulness of mental objects (dhammas)
By incorporating a mindfulness walk into your every day routine, you can stop and clear your head of the clutter that builds up and regain your focus. The walk only needs to be 5 – 10 minutes a day for effects to be noticed and as with forest bathing, try to engage all of your senses during the walk.
There are a number of ‘ways’ you can undertake a mindfulness walk:
Stealth walking – here you walk as quietly and as stealthy as possible
Gratitude walking – Find things to be grateful for, such as the warmth from the sun, the sound of the birds or maybe the rain bouncing off the leaves (nobody said mindful walks are just for good weather!)
One of the things with a mindfulness walk is to notice how your body feels before, during and after the walk. Explore how your feelings and senses change with each step and if you feel your mind wandering off – stop, reset and start again. Embrace the sensations you feel and if a particular sense is becoming dominant, think about how you can engage the other senses – maybe do something as simple as touch the bark of a tree or reach down to feel the grass under your feet and connect with mother nature. Focus on your breathing, try not to linger in any one spot and above all embrace the whole experience.
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, you just need to remember to do it.” – Sharon Saltzberg
As an alternative to going for a walk, you can practice mindfulness as follow:
Sit on a bench, this can be in your garden, in a park, at work etc
Watch who passes by, try not to follow them with your eyes
Listen to the sounds around you
Lift your head up and watch the clouds as they pass by, try and find patterns in them.
Delve deeper into your other senses, what can you smell? How does the air feel?
Focus all of your attention on the connection with nature and your surroundings
There are some fantastic resources about mindfulness and connecting to nature on the internet, far too many to list here but a quick search will soon identify the useful ones.
In the next blog we will look at the concept of biophilia in more depth and the benefits of greening interior spaces.
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere” – Vincent Van Gough
Most of us are very much aware of the prominence of mental heath in the news, especially during their current pandemic, more so with the various lockdown restrictions and the message to ‘stay at home’. Having worked in the land based sector for over 25 years and previously suffering from depression, I am very much aware of the benefits of being outside, connecting with nature and the role plants play in peoples wellbeing.
Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of research carried out into the functional benefits of green plants and natural spaces , showing that time spent in natural settings can help to reduce mental fatigue recovery time, physiological distress and increased attention leading to increased self-esteem and higher productivity rates. Maslow categorises self-esteem as one of the four ‘d-needs’ or ‘deficiency’ needs , and if these d-needs are not met then individuals may feel anxious and tense.
Reduction in stress levels has been shown to occur when people live near green spaces and there is a a strong correlation between access to gardens and lower stress rates in urban environments. Having worked on a couple of small gardens at NHS properties you can see that exposure to plants and green spaces results in lower stress levels and increases patients happiness, especially where the patient has the ability to leave the ward and spend a little time outside.
One of the buzz words at present is Biophilia, we see it in the landscaping industry quite a lot especially in relation to green interiors and office spaces. Biophilia can be defined as “humans innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life”.
Biophilic design can be as simple as placing a few pot plants into an office environment or as complicated as installing interior living walls and watering systems. A number of architects now incorporate biophilia principle where designing new buildings as it can reduce stress , enhance productivity and creativity and improve well-being in urban environments. One only needs to visit some of the modern office spaces in London to see how the new thinking on biophilic design is incorporated. Don’t get me wrong, interior planting is not a new concept, I used to work for the interiors section of a large landscape firm and spent many hours in London maintaining indoor atriums and office displays etc but we now understand more about which plants are useful and how they remove pollutants from the air .
Tree cover is also linked to a reduction in stress with some studies showing a positive correlation between the number of urban trees in a street and the levels of anxiety and stress of the people living there. It is common knowledge that walking through a forest has been shown to reduce a persons blood pressure and pulse rate and this leads into another hot and trendy topic, that of ‘forest bathing’ and we will look at this in the next blog.
I have a deep interest in plant folklore and herbal use, mainly driven by a close association with my nan whose family spent many generations working on the land in rural Cheshire. A lot of the stories she would tell us when we were kids were about uncles and other relatives working the land and how the fairy folk helped out. She also talked about herbal medicine and the use of wildflowers and plants as food source- way before it became trendy to have survival programmes on the TV!
What is a Wortcunner ?
It is said that a wortcunner is an herbalist that has not only mastered the use of herbs and plants but also one that has been touched by plant spirits and someone that has a deep understanding of herbal lore. Wortcunner takes its name from the word wort meaning ‘root or herb’ and ‘cunning’ taken from the middle English word ‘cunnen’ meaning to know.
So why Tansy?
I have always had Tansy ( Tanacetum vulgarae ) growing in my garden, the lacy leaves provide a great backdrop for other plants and the shiny buttons of the yellow flowers brighten up any day. We grow a lot of herbal plants, but I must admit that this is one of my favourites.
Tansy is an herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Asia and has been widely introduced into other areas globally. It has yellow globular flowers produced mid to late summer and finely divided leaves. Other names for Tansy include; bitter buttons, cow bitter, or golden buttons. It thrives in most soils and can propagated by seeds or by dividing the creeping roots in spring or autumn.
The name Tansy is said to derive from the Greek word Athanaton (immortal) as it was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal. It was also widely used by the Greeks for its medicinal properties. The herb was also used in preserving bodies / embalming the dead. Throughout the medieval period it was used to treat Intestinal worms, rheumatism, fevers, sores, digestive problems. It was also one of the strewing herbs used during this period possibly as it was effective at keeping flies away. Writing in the late 16th century, the herbalist John Gerard wrote that tansy was ‘pleasant in taste’ and that sweetmeats made from tansy were good for curing gout.
Tansy is also linked to Easter, when Tansy cakes were awarded as prizes to the winners of a handball game .The cakes consisted of young leaves mixed with eggs and as Mrs Grieve notes ‘were though to purify the humours of body’ after the limited fare of Lent, therefore reducing the amount of flatulence brought on by eating a limited diet of fish and pulses!
In the. 1940s, tansy oil was mixed with other herbs including pennyroyal and fleabane to produce a mosquito repellent that was relatively successful until insecticides such as DEET were produced. Tansy is also used in companion planting and has been used for biological pest control, including the control of Colorado potato beetle.
Tansy is a known herb for use in magical rituals especially in spells, potions and charms for longevity and in rituals of womanhood .
As previously mentioned, it has had a long and varied medical use, largely for expelling worms and as an anti-flatulent and other stomach disorders. However, in large doses it is extremely toxic and a violent irritant. Active ingredients in tansy include; thujone, camphor, sterols, terpenoids and sesquiterpenoid lactones. Its reported that the oil from 10-30g of the flowers can be a lethal dose in humans and that ingestion of a long period of time can be harmful due to the cumulative effects.
Henbane ( Hyoscyamus niger ) has long been associated with magic, ritual, murder and healing. A member of the Solanaceae family which includes daily food items such as the potato and tomato, it is highly toxic and along with other toxic members of the family including belladonna and mandrake , has a notorious reputation.
Native to Europe, Asia and Africa it is now found worldwide. Though not native to the UK it is thought that its widespread occurrence stems from escapees from herbalists’ gardens and it is now partially naturalised though it is classed as vulnerable according to JNCC in the vascular plant red data list for Great Britain.
It prefers sandy or chalky soils and can be found growing in waste ground and even allotments. It is thought that the seed can survive up to 600 years in the ground. Growing up to 36 inches tall, there are two forms; an annual form and a biennial form. The annual plant flowers during July and August whilst the biennial form flowers in May and June during the second year.
Its history can be traced back as far as ancient Greece, sacred to Apollo and known as Herba Apollinaris, it is believed to have been used as a visionary herb by the Oracle of Delphi. It has also been found in graves of Nordic shamen dating from the Neolithic period although some research points to it being used in the palaeolithic period. In Celtic regions the plant was known as belinuntia and it is thought the Gauls used a decoction of henbane to poison the tips of their spears. Writing in his work, De Vegetalibus (1250 AD), Albertus Magnus describes the use of Henbane by necromancers to invoke the souls of the dead as well as of demons. It was during the middle ages that henbane became associated with witchcraft and harmful practices. When applied as a salve to areas of the body where the skin is thin it is said to give vivid episodes or dreams of ‘flying’ or falling and other hallucinations. This is where images of witches flying through the air is thought to originate.
In the late 16th century, John Gerrard mentions in his ‘Herball’;
“The leaves, the seeds and the juice, when taken internally cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness, which continueth long and is deadly to the patient. To wash the feet in a decoction of Henbane, as also the often smelling of the flowers causeth sleep.”
Mrs Grieve, writing in her ‘A modern Herbal’ in 1931 describes how is was thought Henbane was the toxic herb referred to in Hamlet:
‘Sleeping within mine orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With a juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of mine ear did pour
The leprous distillment.’
Though it’s now thought that this refers to Yew and not to henbane, especially as other Elizabethan writers refer to Yew as ‘hebon’. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, it is the leaves that the most toxic and it was believed that even the smell of them when fresh could produce giddiness and stupor.
Henbane contains numerous chemicals, the main active ingredients being the tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolamine along with several minor alkaloids. Since ancient times henbane was used for the relief of pain, toothache and to treat nervous disorders and today it is used in modern medicine , especially ophthalmology. Although used throughout history for murder and suicide, most cases of poisoning today are rare and are usually associated with taking the herb as a mind-altering drug in the form of a ‘dream tea’.
One of the nice things about this time of year, despite the heatwave and the parched grass is the ray of light poking through in the shape of flowering Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium ). Flowering from June until September, Yarrow is an aromatic perennial that can attain a height of 3ft, though more commonly seen at 2 – 12inches, with panicles of white flowers and lacy green leaves. Occasionally you will come across plants with pink flowers, these will be growing on acidic soil whereas the white flowered yarrow thrives on calcareous soil.
Widely known for over 6000 years ( though the earliest find is from 60,00 years ago where it was found in a grave in modern day Iraq) yarrow has a long and distinguished history in the fields of folklore and herbal medicine. During the Trojan war it is said that Achilles learnt the benefits for applying yarrow to wounds from Chiron the centaur and when Achilles asked the gods for protection before going into battle, he was picked up by the ankle and immersed in a vat containing yarrow tea and making him invulnerable. However, where the gods had held onto the ankle , this was the only part of his body not immersed and became his weak spot – the Achilles heel!
The use of yarrow in treating wounds right up until world war one has given it two of its many common names – soldiers’ woundwort and staunchweed. Other common names include: Allheal, angel flower, bloodwort, devils’ nettle, green arrow, herb millitaris, knights’ milfoil, old man’s mustard, sanguinary, thousand weed, bad mans’ plaything and many more.
In ancient China, yarrow sticks were used in divination rituals of the I Ching system and in the west it was thought to protect against evil spirits and even ward off the devil, though in Wales it was considered bad luck to have yarrow in the house as this would encourage the devil to enter. In the 17th century it was used as an herbal snuff and also eaten in salads. Across the globe, yarrow has been added to various alcoholic beverages and is still used this way in some Scandinavian countries.
Widely used in Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, all the aerial parts of the plant are used to treat a variety of conditions including; fevers, colds, period problems, digestive disorders, hypertension, wounds, earache, measles, as a poultice, for stomach ulcers etc, as well as being used as a general tonic and stimulant.
Within the garden, yarrow makes a welcome addition to any naturalistic planting scheme, wildflower meadow or herb garden. It is resistant to drought and will quite happily reseed itself year after year. Germination from seed may be slow and the seeds require sunlight to germinate. It can also be propagated by cuttings or splitting the clumps. In very rich soil, yarrow may become tall and leggy and may require staking. Yarrow is a useful plant as it improves the health of surrounding plants as it contributes phosphorous, calcium and silica to the soil.
So next time you go for a walk and spot the yarrow flowering, or think about removing it from your pristine lawn, allow your mind to drift back to Achilles and the folklore associated with this plant.
The adorable hedgehog … voted Britain’s favourite mammal however, numbers show our prickly prehistoric pals are in decline.
Important information to make note of: take the time now to locate your nearest hedgehog rescue. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society can be called on (01584 890 801) to provide details of rescues nearest to the location of the hedgehog in need. https://helpwildlife.co.uk/map/ will list some, but not every, Hedgehog and wildlife rescue in the United Kingdom.
A hedgehog out in the day displaying abnormal behaviour such as wobbling, laying down on its side or in direct sunlight, moving slowly without purpose for example, actively collecting leaves or grass, eating and drinking or resting in a well shaded, secluded area and regularly returning to a nest or other hiding place, is an EMERGENCY and will need proper care immediately! DO NOT try to look after this mammal yourself; it will be seriously unwell and will require specialist care and medication. The life of this hedgehog depends on the action you take immediately – DO NOT leave the animal unattended as it could move away and it is unlikely to be found again.
The hedgehog needs to be picked up carefully, with a thick towel, thick gardening gloves or oven mitts, taking care to avoid injury to yourself or the hedgehog. Place the hedgehog in a high sided box with either newspaper and some straw/hay or preferably a light coloured towel or T shirt.
Place the box in a quiet place indoors.
If there is no heavy bleeding that you can see, wrap a warm (not too hot) water bottle in a towel and place at one end of the box. Place the hedgehog on the towel and cover the box with another towel. Leave room so the hedgehog can move off the heated area if it gets too hot. Place a shallow bowl of water in the box but no food. It can be dangerous for the hedgehog to attempt eating if the body has gone into shock and started to shut down. If it is bleeding heavily, follow the previous instructions but without the hot water bottle.
Call your local rescue without hesitation.
A Decline in Numbers
The majority of reasons behind declining numbers is human activity; destruction of their habitat by building, unintentional poisoning from the use of pesticides and herbicides and loss of hedgerows on farmland.
New roads are a danger as they are busy with vehicles and often cut through the hedgehogs’ previous known walkway. A hedgehog has no ‘fight or flight’ defence mechanism as other animals do. Their defence mechanism consists of curling into a ball rather than run away. Hedgehogs spines work wonderfully well at keeping predators at bay and act as great shock absorbers but are no match for 4 wheels and a combustion engine. Hedgehogs appear to also rely on ‘It can’t see you therefore you can’t see me’ defence.
Housing developments block off access to natural food and water sources. There is now a law in place after extensive work with developers that requires the installation of ‘Hedgehog Highways’ in walls and fences of new builds, to maintain access to the land.
Contrary to popular belief, slugs and snails only make up around 5% of their food source. These crepuscular creatures happily snuffle around feeding on beetles, caterpillars, worms and earwigs which are much safer for them to eat – slimy slugs and snails can carry lungworm (or be can possibly be poisoned with slug pellets) which will ultimately kill the hedgehog. A hog will only eat these when they are absolutely starving and then they’ll likely die of lungworm (or poison) rather than starvation unless they are found in time and receive immediate medical care.
They need our help to get out of this prickly situation.
How to Help – Make a Hedgehog Friendly Garden!
Ensure your garden is accessible:
Cut a 13cm hole (about the size of a CD case) in your fence – some fencing companies are beginning to offer hedgehog highway gravel boards
Remove walls or fencing and plant a native hedge
Ensure any ponds have an escape route:
Use a gently sloping gravel area
Add a ramp along one edge
Create a wild corner to encourage insects:
Leave the grass longer (ALWAYS check long grass before mowing or strimming as a hedgehog will not run away from the noise)
Make a log pile
Plant native friendly hedging
Lift any netting a good foot (30cm) off the ground at night
Cover drains and holes
Only site a bonfire just before lighting
Stop using slug pellets and chemicals – look at alternative natural products
Keep dogs on leads in the garden after dark to prevent accidents
Provide food and water:
Food is supplementary and increasing insects in the garden is beneficial. Feeding should not be stopped in winter in the belief they are all hibernating (See section on Hibernation).
Water is essential to life. Leave plenty of shallow bowls around
Feed with complete kitten biscuits (not treats) and/or meaty cat or dog food. Fish flavour is okay and it can be in gravy or jelly.
Hedgehog specific food however, some products can contain items that should not be fed to hedgehogs therefore cat or dog food is advised.
Build a simple feeding station, to prevent other wildlife (or cats) eating the food
The following is not an exhaustive list but MUST NOT be fed to hedgehogs:
Provide a home:
Build or provide a wooden hedgehog house (good quality, predator-proof houses can be bought) for sleeping or nesting
Fill with dust extracted meadow hay
Never be tempted to peek in the house – if disturbed, nesting females can abandon their hoglets
Never use chemical wood preserver or disinfectants. If it needs to be cleaned out, use hot water only.
High mating season is usually in May and June with hoglets appearing around 4 weeks after nesting.
A female may have 4 to 5 hoglets. Sometimes a second litter is born late in the autumn and these hoglets can struggle to put on sufficient weight before winter hibernation. On average, a hedgehog should be around 600-650g7 before hibernating to allow for 30-35% body weight loss during this period. If a small hedgehog (less than the 400g size) is seen in autumn, then contact your local rescue for their advice.
During the winter months, hedgehogs are understood to go into deep sleep called hibernation. However, they don’t sleep the entire time, often waking to move nests which can consume a huge amount of energy. Not all hedgehogs hibernate either. This is also time when food is scarce so leaving food and water out year-round is essential.
Ticks and Fleas
Fleas are indigenous to hogs only and don’t infest anywhere else – not even your dog or cat! Fleas are rarely on the hog, preferring to stay in the nest and feed when the hedgehog is sleeping.
Never try to remove a tick from a hedgehog unless you know what you are doing and are using the correct tools. Incorrect removal can lead to leaving part of the ticks mouth parts behind causing infection. Interfering with a tick can also cause it to regurgitate the stomach contents into the hedgehog. One or two ticks are not a problem, they will drop off in due course. A hog with several ticks needs attention from a rescue or vet as this usually indicates and underlying problem.
Hedgehogs and the Law
Hedgehogs are protected by law (Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and should be enjoyed at a distance allowing them to be wild. Legally, hedgehogs are only allowed to be handled by a rescue or when in need of emergency care. There is no need to regularly weigh them unless a small juvenile is spotted in late autumn which will likely also need to be rescued.
Dazzling them with a torch to get a photo or to watch them is also against the law. Therefore, it’s a great idea to get a trail camera with infrared lights to be able to watch them happily snuffling away in the dark. These can range from around £30 upwards. These cameras are also a great way of spotting hedgehogs in need of rescue.
A hedgehog will not stay in your garden if it doesn’t feel safe. Keep them wild and enjoy watching their natural hogtivities on camera!