The intrepid tales of adventure hog (and friends)

Ali North

Our Hedgehog Officer Ali tells us about the Ipswich hedgehog team antics this Spring.

The aim of our Spring night work was to determine how many hedgehogs were utilising the study area. By walking set transects by torchlight we marked each unique individual and recorded each recapture to enable estimates of the density of the population to be calculated (See my previous post here about our night time antics). Once hedgehogs had undergone health checks and had met certain criteria, six hedgehogs were tagged with a satellite/radio tracker. This tracker would record a satellite position at regular intervals, enabling information on their movements to be obtained. It was then our job to keep an eye on them, give them health checks and ultimately retrieve the logger so that the data could be downloaded and insights gleened! This data will be crucial for Nottingham Trent’s Random Encounter Model population estimate, and will provide useful insights into the spatial behaviour of hedgehogs. This field work is part of a wider project being run by Nottingham Trent University, supported by People’s Trust for Endangered Species and British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

The trackers only had a finite battery life so once they were attached to the hedgehog (under license), the clock was ticking and the race was on! The tags emit a radio signal at certain hours of the day which enabled us to tune into the specific frequency of the tag and re-locate it, and the hedgehog it was attached to. To do this we needed a very large aerial, which you can imagine got some odd looks. Comments ranged from 'Are you tracking ghosts?' to the most popular 'Are you checking we have a TV license?' No-one expected our response to be related to hedgehogs, but were all intrigued none the less! Relocating hedgehogs was easier said than done in an urban environment but we had a huge amount of fun doing it. It was fascinating seeing the variety of nesting sites being used; underneath 12ft long corrugated roofing sheets, piles of leaves, in very dense bushes and under sheds!

My favourite of all the tagged hedgehogs was fondly named Adventure Hog. After quickly losing a signal for this adult male, we were excited to find that he liked the countryside and had left the outskirts of town to frequent a small farm. The next day the signal was again lost and we found ourselves weaving our way up and down the streets in the van, jumping out every now and then to see if we could get a signal. With no luck we started driving out of the study area in random directions, and finally picked up a very weak signal at around 11pm. Out we jumped and followed the signal into a creepy, orange back-lit church yard and towards a village on the outskirts of town. We were amazed to find Adventure Hog over 1km away from where he had been tagged. And he could really run! He zipped right across the road in front of us forcing some very quick manoeuvres on our part to give him a quick health check. All was well so off he went into the night. The next night we found him 1km away again, back in the study area scuttling his way between gardens.

It seemed appropriate that Adventure Hogs last parting gift to us was the shedding of his tag in the densest bush known to man kind. At one point I was lying horizontally, suspended by branches, wondering if I was going to ever see the light of day again. Thankfully I was being over dramatic and after a lot of sifting through branches, leaves and litter, we found the fallen tag and managed to crawl, weave and stumble our way out of the bush, leaves and twigs firmly tangled in our hair.

We found the satellite tag

Chloe and I feeling very triumphant after emerging from the bush with adventure hogs tag

Endoscope

Ali North

The hardest of the tags to retrieve, and the last one left to carefully remove from a hedgehog, was ‘shed hog’. Upon the use of an endoscope, we realised that either the tag had fallen in a nest or the hedgehog was still using a very lovely nest in the unreachable corner of a shed foundation. This could mean only one thing: a garden stake out. The garden owners were lovely and very understanding, but did find it very amusing that they had two women lying faces to the ground, staring at a gap under their shed as darkness fell. After around half an hour after sunset, a rummaging from the nest was a reassuring sound  – I had been concerned that the tag might have fallen off the hedgehog – but out he came, cautiously sticking his nose out of the two exit points we had covered, only to get scared by a noise made out on the street, and scuttling back to his nest. We didn’t have to wait long until he came out again, and this time he came out far enough for us to give him a health check and remove the tag. Mission accomplished!