Annabel Mulliner catches up with senior hedgehog foster carer Ellen to commemorate Hedgehog Awareness Week 2021.
With hedgehogs being declared vulnerable to extinction last year, conservation and rescue efforts are more important than ever. While hedgehog rescues and vets are the first port of call in saving a hedgehog’s life, independent foster carers also play a vital role in protecting local hedgehogs, by nursing poorly hedgehogs until they are ready to be released into the wild. Ellen, founder of Hoglington Manor in North Yorkshire, shared with me her journey to becoming a hedgehog foster carer.
Surprisingly, Ellen had no experience with hedgehogs until she was 29. “I was driving home from work and as we turned onto our street, we noticed a hedgehog in broad daylight racing down the street. As we got onto our drive, I turned around and watched this little hedgehog run down the street. I was aware from a previous job that hedgehogs should not be out during the day” Ellen tells me.
“The hedgehog then crossed the street and then suddenly fell flat in the middle of the road. I wandered over to it and noticed it had burns all down its chest and that its eyes were cloudy. I took the hedgehog to a rescue and was sad to discover that it had been poisoned, probably with de-icer as it had been a few cold days, and sadly it passed away”. It was this encounter with the unfortunate hedgehog, whom Ellen named Stanley, that inspired her to learn more about how she could help hedgehogs.
This eventually resulted in her creating Hoglington Manor, named after a two-tier hutch she was kindly donated which she envisages as a “5-star luxury hotel”. “I then expanded this and started calling my garden the Hoglington Manor estate, naming the hedgehogs in guest rooms inside as Hoglington Caravans”.
A day in the life of a hedgehog foster carer
Ellen’s hedgehog guests can come and go rather quickly, but at the moment she has four in her care. Though she doesn’t pick favourites, she admits she has a “soft spot” for Lofty, who she describes as a “big ball of huff”. “Lofty was the runt of the litter and was born here alongside his two siblings, Cassiopeia and Little Nige. I ended up hand rearing them as mother hog was struggling. Lofty was very placid as a youngster but now he is a force to be reckoned with. He huffs at everything and is very cautious of humans and that is exactly how hedgehogs should be”.
“Working with hedgehogs is really rewarding however, there is a lot of sadness that can come with working with these lovely creatures hence why I include humour. It really breaks my heart when they begin to give up” Ellen says. However, she reassures me that the sadness that comes with fostering is worth it for the positives. “The ultimate high is watching your hedgehog guests go back to the wild once they are fit and healthy. It is also a joy when your ex female patients appear with babies”.
“My biggest achievement was working closely with an overweight hedgehog that came to me with awful sagging skin. She couldn’t walk without stepping on her skin and it was ruining her quality of life. The rescue and I decided to get her a tummy tuck, which we have never heard of anyone else doing. The result was astounding and the hedgehog was released a few months later once she was fit and healthy to go”.
Ellen’s humorous and creative approach to foster caring quickly inspired those around her to follow suit. When she first began, there were only four people in the area fostering hedgehogs, and now there are around 30 foster carers in her area.
Ellen does not work directly with the public, but instead works with local rescues and vets. As a ‘senior’ foster carer, Ellen has additional training and skills that allow her to help hedgehogs suffering from a whole range of issues. There’s no regular daily routine to caring for her hedgehogs, but her day to day tasks include checking faecal samples under microscopes, administering medicine, tracking hedgehogs’ progress and looking for safe sites to release them when they have recovered.
The challenges facing British hedgehogs
One of the biggest challenges facing local hedgehogs, though, is parasites. “With food now limited in the wild, this has resulted in hedgehogs having to eat things which may not be good for them. For example, slugs and snails are only a very small part of a hedgehog’s diet, the more slugs and snails they consume the more likely it is for them to catch parasites from them” Ellen reveals. To help prevent this, Ellen suggests providing food for hedgehogs by creating hedgehog feeding stations in your garden.
Of course, there are many other threats that are putting British hedgehogs at risk of extinction. “Many point the finger at badgers, but I find this incredibly unfair as areas where there are no badgers are seeing hedgehog numbers decline too” Ellen tells me. The real culprit, as seems to be a theme in animal endangerment, is us humans.
“Unfortunately, we as humans need to change our habits to improve hedgehog population numbers. Hedgehogs come in [to me] starving as they cannot get into gardens to find food, people are now putting down artificial grass which is not hedgehog friendly, gardens no longer have wild areas meaning insect numbers are dropping, the list could go on.”
“I also get hedgehogs in from the vet due to human error, for example, grass strimmers, attacked by a person’s dog, pulled down sheds, shrubs, hit by cars and so on.”
How can we help?
But there are plenty of ways in which we can all do our part to protect hedgehogs from human-related hazards. “If you have spare time, then do consider volunteering at a hedgehog rescue or hosting regular fundraisers for them, this would really help them and enable them to continue doing their work.”
“However, one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give is to make their gardens hedgehog friendly and create hedgehog highways into other gardens with permission for their neighbours. This is the best way to help improve the population so that others can enjoy them for years to come.”
These are Ellen’s top tips on keeping your garden hedgehog-friendly:
- If you have a dog, turn on your outside light for a few minutes before letting them out after dark. Or, take your dog out on a lead.
- If you have a hedgehog nest that your dog won’t leave alone, cordon off the area so they can’t access it. But be sure to keep a hole free so that the mother hedgehog can come and go as she needs.
- Avoid using poisons or chemicals like slug pellets, as these can be fatal to hedgehogs.
- Avoid using netting on vegetation, and keep sports nets off of the floor.
- If you have a pond, create a shallow area and install ramps so that hedgehogs can easily get out if they fall in.
- Create hedgehog highways into other gardens (with your neighbours’ permission).
- Create a hedgehog feeding station.
What to do if you find an injured hedgehog
If you do happen to find an injured hedgehog, acting quickly is key. “Put it into a high sided box with a bowl of water and for something for it to hide in, like shredding newspaper or a fleece blanket. Do not be tempted to leave it or put it under a bush. Contact your local rescue via phone – do not ask Facebook or send a message as these can be missed”
“If you do not know where your local rescue is then contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society or your local vet. Once you have found a rescue then please take the hedgehog to them as a matter of urgency”.
And never worry about being charged for taking an injured hedgehog to a vet, as they will not charge you for wild animals, and most hedgehog rescues are self-funded by the people who run them.
All images courtesy of Hoglington Manor.
About the author: Annabel Mulliner is Editor of WILD Magazine and Deputy Editor of Nouse, and is in her third year of studying English Literature at the University of York.