Autumn has always been my favourite season, and as far as I'm concerned, this one is being perfect - perfect for working, and perfect for walking, with glorious weather and stunning colours; I'm even enjoying the drippy dank November days of grey skies and golden leaves.
Unfortunately, it's not perfect for everyone - like the poor little hedgehog we recently found at Beckside, out in broad daylight face down on a pile of leaves, infested with ticks and looking very poorly. Hedgehogs are one of Britain's most iconic and beloved wildlife species, but sadly, like so many other birds and animals, they're under threat from loss of habitat - thanks to (among other factors) the horrible fad of replacing real lawns full of worms with sterile synthetic fake grass - and getting squashed on the roads. So every one is precious, and we could see that this summer's juvenile was in such poor condition it was unlikely to survive hibernation.
So we took it home, put it in a big trug of leaves, and were heartened when it revived enough to eat some mealworms and cat-food. Our local vet had no experience with hedgehogs and couldn't give us much advice, so at first we thought of building it a 'hedgehog hospital' and trying to keep it going over winter. Then I discovered that, only 6 miles down the road in Dewsbury, there's a specialist hedgehog rescue and rehabilitation centre called Oggles (a voluntary venture run by a lovely dedicated couple, who have nursed and returned hundreds of hedgehogs to the wild); and since we really didn't know what we were doing, that's where we took it. We learned that healthy hedgehogs look round and plump, but underweight hogs (like ours) are more egg-shaped; and that tick infestations often set in when the animal is already weak. But they seemed confident that they could feed the patient up, de-worm it, remove the ticks, and (I hope!) return it to us in the spring to be released back at Beckside - and so far, I'm pleased to report, it's still alive and getting stronger.
Meanwhile we're delighted to discover that we have at least two hedgehogs living in our garden at Helmickton, a big one and a small one! So Hubcap (pictured) built a fine hedgehog box from an old planter, which one has moved into, and we're now putting refreshments out nightly to fatten them up for hibernation. Contrary to popular belief, you should NEVER give hedgehogs milk (they're lactose-intolerant and it gives them diahorrea) or bread; what they need is plain water and either specialist hedgehog food or good-quality birdfood (mealworms and mealworm suet pellets); they also like meat-based dog- or cat-food (but fish-based varieties are bad for them). So if you're lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your garden, do give them a bit of help to survive the coming winter!