Hedgehogs are remarkable – their capacity to hibernate is a physiological wonder. They can shut their vibrant little bodies down to as close to dead as you can get. Heart rate drops from 200 to 20 beats per minute, breathing virtually stops (and who thought it was a great experiment to stick a hibernating hedgehog into an air-tight box, filled with nitrogen, and leave it for 2 hours … just to see what happens … which is, the hedgehog is fine).
The behaviour probably is behind the hedgehog being such a significant animal in early cultures – the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has small amulets from Sumaria and Ancient Egypt in the shape of hedgehogs. And it has now been suggest that the small chalk hedgehog found at Stonehenge, associated with a child’s body, was placed there because there might have been some sympathetic magic hoped for – if the hedgehog can come back from the dead each year, why not my child? Though it could also have been a toy.
But I digress – hedgehogs can only manage to survive hibernation if they have stocked up enough on food during the autumn – i.e. now. So if you were feeling like doing a little something to help hedgehogs, now would be a great time to start putting some food out for them. There are many ways you can do this so as to reduce interference from cats, foxes and rats – have a look at the wonderful BHPS website for top tips.
And the reason why I am reminded of this all? I got one of a fairly regular stream of calls from friends who have found hedgehogs – wanting advice. Everyone is so apologetic about calling me, but if I can help, I love to be able to, and if I am too busy, will always redirect them to someone else. This person, though, had some rather special skills that I hoped he would employ. Adrian Arbib is a brilliant photographer – I first met him covering the protests at Twyford Down as the M3 extension was being forced through the beautiful countryside around Winchester – and he ended up photographing our wedding as a gift – a very fine one at that. So when he called to say he had found a hedgehog trapped in the stairwell of his house in north Oxford, on top of the advice I gave about getting it some food, I also asked if he would take some photographs …