'The gardens are bigger, the wildlife is better': why I moved out of Hove for hedgehogs

Sylvester the hedgehog – last spring’s star turn on the night trail camera – has returned 
and I am loving watching his escapades

Hedgehog eating apples on lawn 
Pictured: common European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) eating apples on lawn Credit: Arterra Picture Library / Alamy 

Sylvester was the first hedgehog I spotted on my trail camera last spring, when I was transforming the garden to make it more wildlife friendly.

A large adult male, he’s considerably bigger than the other hogs that visit. Or, at least, I think he is. He could be several hedgehogs, really – the only way of knowing is to stay up all night, catch and name each hog that visits the garden, and then mark a few of its spines with nail varnish or paint, recording where on its spines I’ve marked it.

This surveying technique is usually carried out by ecologists who use the data collected to assess how large, or viable a population is. I’m happy to just watch the hedgehogs on the night camera and leave them be, even if Sylvester is actually several different animals.

The night camera started to catch him coming into the garden again at the end of February, a little earlier than usual for hedgehogs emerging from hibernation, but it’s been so mild I wasn’t surprised to see him.

As soon as he appeared I dusted down my hedgehog feeding station – a box with a hedgehog-sized entrance hole on each side, which prevents larger mammals from getting in, so the hogs can feed safely. Inside I placed a dish of hedgehog biscuits, and left another dish, of water, outside.

Sylvester isn’t interested in the hedgehog biscuits in his feeding station. For days I aimed the camera on the box to watch him going in and out, but he didn’t go anywhere near it. I changed the food and it made no difference.

Sylvester comes into my garden for caterpillars, beetles and worms. I moved the camera and found him nosing beneath leaves and among my recently mulched border, hoovering up little grubs of this and that.

Sometimes he sleeps in the hedgehog box, another piece of kit designed so hedgehogs can sleep, nest and hibernate safely – no bigger animals can get in. It’s filled with soft hay and has two bricks on top to stop nosy foxes having a peek.

Sometimes I place the night camera in front of it so I can see him pop in and out – often he just goes in for a few hours and then emerges for another wander, and ends up spending the day elsewhere. I love my morning routine of watching hedgehog videos with Sylvester.

I had to take Sylvester to the vet last week. He was walking with a limp, barely putting any weight on his back left foot. The vet said he’s probably got stuck somewhere or been bitten by a dog or a fox. He was just bruised, rather than broken, thank goodness.

I made a little den in the shed for him for a few days and fed him wet meaty cat food with a little drop of “hedgehog ibuprofen” in it, to reduce the inflammation.

Two days later he’d worked out how to escape, and I caught him on the night camera again, ferreting around the borders for grubs. I felt like a bad hedgehog mum, this was my first attempt at “Hedgehog Hospital” after all. But his leg seemed better and he’s been in every night since. Fair enough, Sylvester, I thought.

When I tell people I moved out of central Hove for hedgehogs, they laugh. But it’s true. The gardens are bigger here, the wildlife is better. My terraced house is connected to a hundred others via an old coal route – it’s the perfect hedgehog network.

I grow native plants which, even at this time of year, are riddled with holes made by early caterpillars. I mulch the borders with compost from the open heap, and let the meadow stay tufty so critters can feed and shelter in it over winter. The hedgehogs love it. I hope Sylvester continues to visit, and maybe one day he’ll bring a friend.