Things have taken a turn for the scientific: I have been conducting experiments in the garden, under the cover of darkness.
You know all about our hedgehog visitor by now (and yes, this is another hedgehog-related post). Well, with winter approaching, my mother was kind enough to buy the little creature a house in which to hibernate. This picture shows the house being inspected by Daisy, my glamourous assistant.
We found an ideal spot for the house by our garden fence, underneath an apple tree, where it is protected from the prevailing winds. But this is in the lower part of our garden, some four feet below the patio, which is where we always see the hedgehog. For some time we’ve had a small ramp along the side of the fence, connecting the patio to the rest of the garden, but we’ve never been sure that the hedgehog has found it, let alone that he has been able to use it. So some experimentation was needed!
First, we put mealworms (our hedgehog’s snack of choice – and a good thing to put out for him, since it is of no interest to passing cats) on two places along the ramp – some in the middle, and some a little lower down. That night there was a heavy rainstorm, which most likely washed the food away. So we repeated it the next night, and the next, and each time, the food had disappeared by morning. But that doesn’t prove that the food was eaten by the hedgehog, so…
We covered part of the ramp in flour, hoping to be able to see footprints in it the next day. That proved inconclusive. I did a bit of research, and found another technique: taking a bit of cardboard, covering it in foil, and then using a candle to blacken it with soot. Heaven only knows what my neighbours thought I was doing as I stood in the garden, in the cold, hovering close to a candle as dusk fell. It is trickier than it sounds to blacken a piece of foil in that way, but I got there in the end (albeit with a smaller piece of foil than I had started with – I got a bit impatient part way through, and threw half of it away so that it wouldn’t take as long). I put the foil-covered cardboard towards the lower half of the ramp, and left it there overnight.
By morning, we had evidence! There were plenty of footprints on the foil, and judging from pictures I’ve seen online of hedgehog footprints, that is what they are. So we now know for sure that he can and does use the ramp to access the rest of our garden.
But will he find his house? I’m planning to repeat the foil trick in a spot by the entrance to the shelter, and lay a Hansel and Gretel style trail of mealworms leading from the bottom of the ramp to the front of the shelter.