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Hedgepiggie

On Friday, coming back latish, we met a hedgehog in the road.  Philmophlegm did an excellent emergency stop, and we went and found the prickly wanderer, who had tootled slowly into the verge and was noisily struggling to climb it.   I escorted him well into the hedge.

 We wondered afterwards if we should have taken him further from the road, or even brought him home (he was only about 1/3 of a mile away).  Despite the usefulness of hedgehogs in a garden, and the generous number of slugs I am able to provide,  I think that would have been too high risk though -  I'm not entirely sure how the resident sighthounds would react to the presence of hedgepigs.  Also, I suppose, we might have ended up bringing him into badger territory.  It's been a while since I've seen a badger around here or heard one in the garden, but there were quite a few around a few years back.

It was good to see the hedgehog, since they seem to be a species in sharp decline.  I find this terribly worrying. Hedgehogs have somehow hung in there as a common sight in Britain for all this time, even though they are almost defenceless, (their spines are really not that sharp) and clumsy, noisy and slow.   And now it looks like they are going, or at least declining from a common sight to a rare thing seen only in special places - and you have to wonder why *now*.

 For all we talk about habitat loss and pesticides and predators, I have to wonder how much of it is just traffic - which is, of course, much harder to tut about, because traffic is so many of us.  More cars, more roads, all cutting a swathe of death across the landscape.    Same with the butterflies.  I have a huge buddleia bush outside my house in full bloom right now, and there are more of them all over the bank.  My garden and the surrounding hedges and verges are full of excellent butterfly and bee-habitat, and many of my neighbours gardens are more than a little on the wild side : I'd be amazed if they were using much by way of pesticides.  The local fields are not sprayed.   And yet, on my buddleia, huge and purple and full of tempting scents - nothing but a few bumble-bees.

I can remember as a child in the 1970s', helping my father clean bugs of the windscreen of his car.  You had to do it often, or you wouldn't be able to see out.  The whole front windscreen was a sad little insect graveyard, all wings and legs.   I can't remember the last time I had to clean bugs off my car.  OK, my car is more curvy than a 1970's car, and probably acts as rather less of a mobile flyswat, but still, that seems odd.

Today it is mizzling persistently and all the horizons are close and full of fog. At the same time, it is quite warm.  Rainforest weather... 

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
timetiger
31st Jul, 2013 13:50 (UTC)
I'm sad to read that the hedgehog population is declining and very much hope that the trend will be reversed. Good for you for helping the little fellow you found.
carmarthen
31st Jul, 2013 15:55 (UTC)
As far as butterflies go, buddleia is great adult food, but the main control on butterfly populations is availability of caterpillar host plants (as a non-native plant, I doubt any of your caterpillars will eat buddleia)--if there are fewer and fewer places with native plants, butterfly populations will decline no matter how nice and full of nectar people's gardens full of non-native plants are. :-/ If you want more butterflies, I'd suggest looking into what the caterpillars of your favorite species eat.

I also suspect you're right about hedgehogs and traffic.
bunn
31st Jul, 2013 16:22 (UTC)
Oh, absolutely, I do understand that buddleia only attracts adults. The thing is though, there is so much caterpillar food available, that I'm a little surprised that such an accumulation of buddleias flowering in warm weather is not attracting adults that had grown up on these foods across the immediate area.

The common caterpillar food plants here are nettle, hedge mustard, thistles, mixed grasses,docks (and supposedly ivy and holly although frankly I have yet to see anything eat ivy or holly, and I provide AMPLE opportunities for any wandering insect to gorge on those their heart's content.)

There are loads of these plants available, both in my garden and across miles of surrounding area:a mix of small hazel and oak woodland and small fields down to grass or cattle and surrounded by fairly seriously ancient hedgerows with wide, interesting verges. We are in the middle of an area of outstanding natural beauty, and surrounded by sites of special scientific interest.

I've seen the impact of pesticide use, tidy gardens and hedgerow destruction in other areas where I've lived - but these things do not apply here, unless they are happening on a very much larger scale than I am used to looking at. :-/
carmarthen
1st Aug, 2013 05:11 (UTC)
Whoops, sorry, didn't mean to lecture! I think a lot of the host plant diversity (especially for butterflies) is going to be in less common plants, probably? Grasses are basically only going to host some moths, and the others maybe one or two species each, I'd think. But yeah, there are other potential factors--the wrong weather at the wrong time of year can seriously impact pupation success or overwintering in some species, and depending on whether any of your species are migratory, habitat destruction in other areas can definitely have a ripple effect.
bunn
1st Aug, 2013 21:36 (UTC)
The Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies all primarily eat nettles as caterpillars, and we do have several that are down as primarily eating 'Meadow grasses (various)' too - the Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown are the two that I usually see around here. http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/foodplants.php

The national figures show a steep decline in population numbers in the last 3 years, which were very wet - but more than that, there's a long-term population decline nationally. http://butterfly-conservation.org/163-1252/decade-of-decline-for-uk-butterflies.html - and that was before last year's very wet summer.

I did see a Peacock butterfly today. I have everything crossed that by next week he will be back with an army of friends!
puddleshark
31st Jul, 2013 18:36 (UTC)
That does sound like perfect butterfly territory - unimproved, unsprayed rough grassland with a mix of wild grasses and butterfly food plants...

The only thing I can think of is maybe there's a problem with the actual management - the grass not being allowed to grow high enough, or being cut too early, or overgrazed by livestock or rabbits? Might your your local wildlife trust have published anything on habitat management in your area?
bunn
31st Jul, 2013 20:23 (UTC)
Well, I suppose it's not the sort of open downland you have down your way, and the management is probably a bit hard to take an overview of!

It's a patchwork: you stroll around for 10 mins and it goes: messy garden, old orchard, tidy garden, new orchard, veg patch, field with pony, field that used to have pony now going back to scrub, Very Scrubby Field Almost a Wood, improved field with BRIGHT GREEN grass, garden full of long grass strimmed once a year in a fit of fury, fruit patch, unimproved fields with sheep, rather gracious garden, hay field, veg patch, enclave of chickens, enclave of pigs, mining ruin overgrown with grass, couple of improved fields growing clover, random trackway with the hazel hedges all overgrown into trees, neat bungalow gardens, beautifully managed horticulturists garden, polytunnel, unimproved field with cows, overgrown field, Here Be Random Goats, cottage garden, nother orchard, woods, The House Embedded In a Rosebush, Pub garden, overgrown mine, more cows, river, woods. All sort of draped onto a steep hillside and enclosed by a complex network of hedges in various states of repair.

It is a bit random, but there are *squillions* of nettles and docks!
ladyofastolat
31st Jul, 2013 21:57 (UTC)
The House Embedded In A Rosebush. I want to read this novel. I also look forward to listening to a Here Be Random Goats! concert at some future folk festival, where they will be supported by Enclave of Pigs.
puddleshark
1st Aug, 2013 19:13 (UTC)
Heh! - a landscape of infinite variety!

I would have thought that sort of fragmented landscape would suit some of the bigger butterflies - Red Admirals and such... How odd that the buddleia is not working its usual magic.
bunn
1st Aug, 2013 21:40 (UTC)
We have definitely had a lot more tortoiseshells in the past, but I understand that the wet summer last year hit them particularly hard. Usually we get a decent number of whites, red admirals and peacocks too - I did see a peacock today though!

I saw a news story recently saying that David Attenborough reckons we have fewer butterflies this year than any other time in his whole lifetime. :-/
inzilbeth_liz
1st Aug, 2013 06:06 (UTC)
It's very sad and worrying about the decline in hedgehogs. I suspect there are multiply reasons but the possible involvement of badgers obviously interests me. Increasingly I also hear that their rise in numbers is connected to a decline in ground nesting birds. As to butterflies, it seems a good year for them here but wasps have vanished!
bunn
1st Aug, 2013 21:42 (UTC)
I'm glad to hear there are still butterflies somewhere!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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