I was looking for inspiration for a new post on my blog this evening and thought I’d try Twitter. The third tweet and photo I came to was a tremendous photo of a hedgehog. I probably have hedgehogs in my garden every night but sightings of them are rare. The last sighting was one prompted one morning by my dog, Molly, at 4.30 a.m., just before I set off to work at the National Wildlife Crime Unit. I would never have known the hedgehog was there but for my dog putting its nose in the air. I looked upwind and here was the wee beastie snuffling along the side of the lawn looking for worms and slugs. Hopefully it found plenty of the latter. Even better if it brought all its pals and they made their way to the vegetable garden.
Hedgehog numbers have plummeted and I am always concerned about them getting caught in tunnel traps that are set ostensibly for stoats, weasels and rats. There is no maximum entrance size to these traps laid down in law. The nearest the legislation comes to that is to state that (at least in Scotland) ‘the traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’. Despite having studied wildlife legislation for many years and written four books on the subject I am still puzzled by the last phrase of the definition. Most legislation in Scotland is run past various organisations and interested parties before finalising but I can’t say that I saw any of this. Had I seen it I would have been looking for an explanation of what exactly ‘whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species, means. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be a ‘get out of jail’ card at the termination of court proceedings in the future.
Because of loose legislation, many tunnel traps are still set with an entrance wide enough that can easily allow an adult hedgehog to gain access. The largest mammal that may be legally caught in the smaller of the traps ( Mk IV) is a grey squirrel, while the largest allowed to be caught in the more powerful (Mk VI) trap is a mink. Both are long and narrow and able to squeeze into a narrow entrance that would easily exclude an adult hedgehog. These unprofessionally-set traps with their wide entrances must catch hedgehogs, even from time to time if not frequently. By their rotund shape, a hedgehog will be caught by a leg, and will certainly not be killed instantly as should most of the legitimate victims, such as the long and narrow stoat, weasel, rat or grey squirrel that get caught around the body. Further, since legitimate victims will invariably be killed outright, nothing is laid down in legislation that requires these traps to be checked daily as in the manner of snares and live-catch traps. I accept that many trap operators do check their tunnel traps daily, but there will be an equal number who do not. The poor hedgehog, therefore, is consigned to death by shock, starvation or, worst of all, being eaten alive by maggots.
Despite their propensity for eating eggs, as has been demonstrated on the Uists, I like hedgehogs. On the grand scale of things, the eggs of ground-nesting birds they take in mainland Britain are negligible and they well-deserve their place in the range of wildlife that we enjoy, albeit in the case of the nocturnal hedgehog, infrequently.