WHO wouldn’t want this wild animal in their garden?
This cute wee creature was photographed by a reader in her Coolnasilla garden this wee, and it got Dúlra thinking about how the hedgehog has been forced to retreat from so many parts of Belfast.
You could say that it’s a miracle that they survived in any of our gardens, given the inevitable destruction of their habitat when the homes were originally built. But it just takes a couple of hedgehogs to remain holed up in a ditch near a housing development – in Coolnasilla’s case the old Smicker’s field – and they gradually recolonise their patch, prowling the gardens instead of open fields.
They face countless obstacles, though. More people nowadays want their gardens fenced off, and treeless lawns are very popular. What the hedgehog needs is a bit of wilderness – gladly supplied by bad gardeners like Dúlra.
It’s for that reason that front gardens don’t really interest them. They like the back ones that are a bit more unkempt and interconnected with other gardens. And it’s in back gardens that people keep their compost heaps, often tossing their lawn cuttings into a corner. That’s what the hedgehog will crawl into, even using it for that vital winter hibernation.
Many of our estates have been swept super-clean by the Housing Executive, with walls replacing hedges and paving replacing lawns. But other areas – particularly older estates like Andersonstown where houses came with big gardens – are still hedgehog meccas.
We just don’t often see them because they only roam when it’s dark. Although they look slow, they can cover some ground – each hedgehog will visit eight-to-ten gardens a night. Dúlra has lost count of the number of hedgehogs he’s spotted over the years. He used to offer them cat food, and every evening they’d stroll up to the back door to get their dinner.
Unfortunately, that prickly skin isn’t enough to save them from the strong claws of the badger and so where badgers roam, hedgehogs don’t, and every night now a badger goes on patrol around Dúlra’s garden.
When the young Dúlra used to walk the dogs up the mountain, he would cut up through the old home on which Glenmona is presently being built. And almost every time one of the dogs would discover a hedgehog in the hedgerows here and it would bark like mad then recoil in pain when their nose came in contact with one of the spikes.
Dúlra hopes that some of those same hedgehogs will have survived the building work and will move back in to roam the gardens there.
The gráinneog has been in Ireland for 1,000 years, so long now that’s although not a truly native mammal, it’s certainly got an Irish passport. And it’s incredible that, if we’re lucky, many of us can still enjoy this amazing animal in our own gardens.
• This bird must be the king of the redpolls. It was photographed on a feeder in Poleglass this week and Dúlra has never seen such a stunning example of this unusual wee finch.
Redpolls are usually drab brown with a pink patch on their head, but this male bird looks like it’s fallen into a paint tin! Again, it’s amazing that such an exotic bird can be seen in the gardens of West Belfast.
• Finally, a reader in North Belfast heard a thump at his window and went out to find this wee bird sitting on the ground stunned. What is it, he asked?
It’s a baby dunnock – a particularly shy garden bird that would never come near a human hand, never mind sit on one. The newly fledged bird later flew away unharmed. But that’s a picture worth keeping!
If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.