Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hedgehog News

I read that badger numbers are rising in many parts of Britain, and that hedgehog numbers have been falling sharply and continuously at the same rate. The Independent article (it was ‘drawn to my attention’, but I don’t remember who by, sorry), gives an idea of the extent of the decline and mentions some possible, indeed probable, reasons for it. The article it links to in jstor describes a revealing and high resolution inverse correlation between badger sett density and hedgehog presence (in different areas of Oxfordshire). Not damning, but worthy of consideration.

Many people would consider this to be just another little piece of information about our little island, but in England everyone has to have an opinion about everything. In the comments we find badger-haters, badger-lovers, people who think they’re on a different thread, people who blame their particular political bugbear for the continued existence of badgers/hedgehogs, people who see the writer as part of a government conspiracy, and those who just think he’s an idiot (he isn’t, although the only intelligent comment I read does point out, correctly, that TB is not spread by a virus).

The jstor article is much more difficult for the media butterflies to criticise. It doesn’t claim that it’s all the badgers’ fault, it just observes, and advances interpretation of the findings. Which is what science is supposed to do, often at the cost of not saying very much at all.

Your blogging hedgehog is from North Africa, and knows little of these badgers that so terrorize my European cousins. Back home there are several snakes we have to look out for, as they can unroll us like the badger, and there are a couple of very nasty cat-like things that can just crunch through spines and everything. But not badgers as such. So I have nothing in principle against the creatures.

My bipedal co-blogger remarks that he was brought up in South-East England which is supposed to be full of badgers, but he never saw one. They remain, for him, creatures of myth and fairy-tale, bounteous beings that bring fortune to those who encounter them. Not to me, of course, but I hope I never will.


Vincent said...

I like the hedgehogs because they are slow and therefore you can see them, and feed them in your garden. But they wouldn't come to my backyard, because it has solid fences all round. These don't keep out the rats, though. They run along the fence-tops as cheeky as you like. And I dreamed about a fox last night - petting it and so forth.

A few years ago here in the Chilterns they were making huge publicity about the reintroduction of the red kite, which had not been seen here for hundreds of years. At my local garden centre they had CCTV coverage of a kite's nest, so that you could wish them well whilst having a cup of tea and a muffin.

Now the skies are infested with kites, in town and country; though not in such numbers as the seagulls, which feast on spilled junk food strewn over the payments. By some alchemy of Nature, their diet doesn't ruin their pure sleek looks.

I don't know what it is in the Brits that makes them swoon over endangered species. Perhaps if we had plagues of locusts we might get over the sentimentality. Nature looks after itself but does not necessarily favour the species Homo Sap. It goes without saying that if we live in harmony with Nature, the reverse will also be true, as it used to be, in some indeterminate past.

CIngram said...

Despite my love of hedgehogs, I have to admit you wouldn't want too many of them running around, nor getting in the house. Like most wild animals they can spread diseases that we are no longer resistant too. But they add a great deal of charm to a garden when they pop in at night to take pot luck on the compost heap or, in the case of my parents' house in my youth, to eat the leftover cat food. (Twenty odd feral cats lived in the garden at one point. Long story. You wouldn't want that, either. But it meant I knew that hedgehogs like cat food, which saves a lot of money.)

We get a lot of kites on the farm, especially in the autumn when they circle in great swarms, preparing for the flight to Africa. Yours are probably a different species, though. They aren't a problem in the country, and they don't seem to eat partridge chicks, so we don't bother them too much. There are many birds of prey in the country, all protected by law but mostly their beauty and majesty protects them anyway from all but the most thoughless hunters.

On the subjects of plagues, I remember the summer of 1978, more or less, when the south east of England was covered with greenfly for several days. They were on every surface, they filled the air, you had to cover your eyes and nose as you walked. The next year it ladybirds. i don't remember anything like it since. I don't know if anyone gets sentimental about greenfly but they certainly do about ladybirds

Some German cities are having serious problems with wild boar on the streets, and I believe in some places in England foxes are causing trouble in towns. Wolves still kill sheep, and occasionally shepherds, in northern Spain. They take a less dewy-eyed attitude to conservation than those who only know them as sleek, silky creatures clinging on to existence by a thread.

Yes, indeed, nature has its own ideas about how things should be balanced, which is why I don't think it's such a bad idea that we've learned to favour ourselves.