For a nation of animal lovers, the stark warning from a human version of Beatrix Potter's Mrs Tiggy-Winkle character creation should make a number of people sit up and notice. Barbara Roberts cares for hedgehogs in her own home in Withington, Manchester, and over the years must have looked after thousands of the prickly creatures. However, she is growing increasingly concerned about the population crisis that they are facing, with recent figures suggesting that their numbers may have now dropped below one million in the UK.
The latest estimates are a far cry from the 1950s, when the figure was believed to be around 30 million hedgehogs living in the UK, according to data held by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). Numbers have been rapidly decreasing over the years though, such that by 1995 the figure was nearer a worrying 1.5 million and now the numbers have dropped even further. A clearly very concerned Ms Roberts told The Times that the situation is "getting worse and it's not going to stop. There won't be any hedgehogs in future unless we do something about this."
Ms Roberts is a qualified wildlife rehabilitator, so clearly knows what she is talking about, having founded the Withington Hedgehog Care Trust back in 2002. Her home has been transformed into a hedgehog sanctuary in what is very much a labour of love for the animal-centric Mancunian. She takes in injured creatures and nurses them back to good health, before releasing them back into their natural (wild) habitat, an experience she likens to "sending them to university." In order to carry out her caring persona she has to maintain a ready supply of food, #Medicine and incubators at her home, which is not an inexpensive exercise as one can imagine. The funding comes mainly out of her own pocket, as much as £12,000 per year, with few donations. In fact, she only has one standing order currently that she receives in that respect, that amounts to just £10 per month.
The numbers can become quite a burden as well, with a peak of about 600 hedgehogs being looked after about three years ago, and a not untypical figure (as of today) of some 250 creatures at any one time.
Ms Roberts was given a British Empire Medal in the Queen's New Year's honours list, in recognition of her work, and her devotion is obvious from the way in which she talks so fondly about looking after the sick creatures. "I feel like I'm their mum. I hand-rear them and wipe their bottoms and feed them like newborn babies." She does though make the distinction between a pet and a wild animal, understanding that hedgehogs belong in the wild once they have been made better under her care and supervision.
The BHPS runs an annual Hedgehog Awareness Week, with this year's events running between 3rd and 9th May 2015. It promises to have 'hedgehoggy' events running all across the country, so please check their website for further details. This year's events will look as ever to highlight the problems that hedgehogs face and also how the general public can help them, with a particular focus on gardeners this year. Their advice to gardeners in consideration of hedgehogs includes checking before beginning mowing or strimming, reducing or stopping the use of pesticides and poisons in the garden, and also moving rubbish piles to another spot before setting fire to them. #Animals