The last time I saw hedgehogs regularly was in the 1990s when walking home from the pub after closing time. We always used to see a hedgehog or two. No special effort required.
Fast-forward 20+ years and Debbie has warned that we’ll be out looking for hedgehogs in the hotel grounds and Coombe Country Park until at least 3am - and may not even see one.
With us are two volunteers, Jane and Nichola, and the four of us spread out evenly to survey a transect between the hotel and the main road, walking at a steady pace and sweeping the grassland beside the tree-lined driveway with our torches.
After nearly an hour with no hedgehog sightings, I joke that maybe I needed a pint of lager before setting out to help me get my eye in.
Then at 23:47 Jane spots a hog in the beam of her torch and it freezes in the light. This typical reaction is perfect for us to take a closer look but helps to explain why so many are killed on our roads. As we gather around, it curls up into a ball.
Wearing thick gardening gloves, Debbie gently jiggles our prickly friend to encourage it to uncurl and when the hedgehog gets back on its feet to regain its balance, is able to examine it.
She knows this particular hedgehog well. Five plastic tags are super-glued to its spines which tell us this is #W01 – the first to be identified and numbered when Debbie started tagging hedgehogs at Coombe in September 2018 to support her ongoing research.
#W01, an adult female, has now been found a total of 10 times and when we see her in mid-September 2019, she stands on the scales like a pro to be measured and weighed.
She’s a whopping 1151g, easily surpassing the 450g minimum believed necessary to withstand a winter of hibernation, and although Debbie removed three ticks at the start of September, none are found this time. Records completed, #W01 is released to continue her nocturnal activities.
Hedgehogs can cover considerable distances each night and over a mile is not uncommon. GPS grid references show that while this part of Coombe is #W01’s home, she does plenty of roaming across the grassland and woods looking for food – and it would seem for a mate. On one occasion she appeared to be pregnant and in May she was found courting.
As we press on with our torches, to the end of the driveway and back to the hotel, we find hedgehogs #W07 and #W17, the latter twice. We’re also excited to find two new faces who are duly measured, weighed, given a health check and tagged: #W29, #W30.