Hedgehog rescue at the Edinburgh BioQuarter
Dr Elaine Emmerson, Group Leader, Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh BioQuarter, tells us how a hedgehog survey turned into a hedgehog rescue.
Survey for the Hedgehog Friendly Campus Project
On a sunny Monday afternoon in early August, around 12 volunteers from The Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) and Building Nine on the Edinburgh BioQuarter met in the CRM garden to start a hedgehog survey. This was arranged by Kelly Douglas, CRM Postgraduate Administrator and wildlife enthusiast. With expert guidance from University of Edinburgh Estates staff, we were educated on hedgehog behaviour and provided with tunnels that we could place in the green space surrounding CRM and Nine to find if we had hedgehogs in the area.
The tunnels were made of a clever combination of hedgehog-friendly cat food (that doesn’t contain milk, as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant) in the middle of the tunnel, with strips of tape covered with oil mixed with charcoal, a “non-toxic paint” if you like, on either side, and pieces of clean paper at each end to capture any footprints from an exiting animal. The volunteers split into groups and positioned the tunnels in various places around the site.
I was included in the day one analysis group, alongside Kelly and Donna, the Centre Administrator, and excitedly we looked around all the tunnels the following day, recording our footprint findings. I’m not sure what I expected, but seeing little footprints that we deemed to be those of hedgehogs was incredible.
There’s a hedgehog!
Afterwards, as myself and the others were heading back to CRM Donna exclaimed “there’s a hedgehog!”
Low and behold, there was a hedgehog trotting across one of the paths at the back of CRM. We crept closer and got a good view of a very awake but happy-looking little hedgehog. We all thought it was a little odd to see a hedgehog out in the middle of the afternoon, but since it looked perfectly healthy, we shrugged it off and headed back inside to continue with our afternoon work.
While we had been undertaking our survey, I had noticed that the bird feeders situated in the CRM garden were completely empty, so the next day I brought some bird food from home to refill the feeders. Once I’d finished, I took a walk around the garden, just wondering if I would see the hedgehog from the day before again.
Much to my horror, as I came round the back of the garden I spotted it, lying on the edge of the path, in full view. I went to take a closer look and found it was breathing, but was very sluggish and in full sun. I went back into the building to get some water and petri dishes, and subsequently tried to coax them further into the bushes for protection.
I sent an email around our volunteer list to ask those undertaking the survey that day to keep an eye out for it. While the day two volunteers didn’t see the hedgehog while doing their survey, thankfully, Elizabeth Vander Meer, UoE Research & Policy Manager and hedgehog lover, knew this wasn’t normal behaviour for a hedgehog and this little one needed help. She contacted Jonathan from the Estates Team and armed with a box and thick gloves together we went looking for the hedgehog, but unfortunately couldn’t find it.
Help from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
I went back to work but the fate of this little animal was weighing on my mind, so I found myself coming out to the garden every time I had a break. After a couple of uneventful trips out I eventually saw it again, back out in full sun again.
I called Elizabeth and she suggested that we should call the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). The operator told me to pick up the hedgehog and put it in the box, using the gloves, to keep it safe, and they sent out a welfare officer, who arrived within the hour.
While we waited, the hedgehog did a very good impression of a happy and healthy hedgehog, noisily eating a slug, and I started to wonder if my worrying had been over the top. However, when he arrived, the welfare officer checked the hedgehog over and declared that he was a young male, and was dehydrated (his prickles weren’t standing up straight), but otherwise appeared uninjured.
Even so, he took him back to the Rescue Centre for a bit of TLC and proper hydration until he was strong enough to be released. So, a happy ending for this little man, and good evidence that we likely have more like him around The Edinburgh BioQuarter.
I wanted to write about this event as it was quite an eye-opener for me. I grew up in the suburbs of Leeds with a landscape architect and allotment-owner as a Mum, so I was always surrounded by urban life, but until this day I really had no idea that the signs this hedgehog was showing, like being out during the day, were so serious.
Furthermore, I recently heard a story that more UK residents had signed a petition calling for extra protection for hedgehogs than the estimated number of hedgehogs remaining in the wild in the UK, a very sobering statistic. The Hedgehog Street campaign explains:
In the past decade we have lost over half of rural hedgehogs and a third from towns and cities
So, to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position, and finds a hedgehog out during the day: don’t assume the hedgehog is ok just because it looks ok; place it in a high sided box with an old towel to hide under, using gardening gloves, offer water and meaty cat or dog food (advice from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)); and call for expert help from the SSPCA or BHPS. And we can all do our bit to help hedgehogs by keeping gardens a bit untidy and creating hedgehog highways and havens.