Written by Jeannie Swales
Think back – when did you last see a hedgehog?
A report in a national newspaper last year based on figures supplied by The People’s Trust for Endangered Species suggested that there were 36 million hedgehogs in this country in the 1950s; around two million by the mid-1990s; and less than a million today.
Likely causes for the decline include poor management of hedgerows, and loss of habitat due to new roads, housing and other developments. Tens of thousands of hedgehogs are killed by road traffic each year.
Climate change is another possible cause of the hedgehog’s steady demise: it increases the likelihood of extreme weather, such as heavy rainfall that can flood their homes.
Even Bonfire Night can be a threat – a handy pile of wood is very tempting to a hedgehog as a place to hibernate, with predictably disastrous results.
Our friend here today, of course, is long beyond any such problems – he’s a stuffed hedgehog from the taxidermy section of the Scarborough Collections, and as such, hasn’t bristled his little spines since, probably, Victorian times.
The hedgehog holds a special place in the hearts of the British people, both culturally and in folklore. One of Beatrix Potter’s best-loved characters is the mob-capped and aproned washerwoman Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
Hedgehogs were believed to roll on top of apples to impale them on their spines before carrying them to their nests – not only is this a physical impossibility, but it begs the question of how they’d get the apples off again at the other end!
The poor creatures were sometimes blamed for reducing the milk yield of cows by feeding from their udders, another tale that seems unlikely given the height difference in the two animals; and predicting changes in wind direction – it apparently moved the entrance to its nest in response.
Hedgehogs are treated as food in some cultures – and healthy food at that: in some Middle Eastern areas, hedgehog meat is still considered a cure for rheumatism and arthritis. And I’m indebted to the HistoryToday (historytoday.com) website for the following:
“During the Second World War Gypsies were a common scapegoat for the press, which depicted them as shirkers and deserters, able to escape conscription through their nomadism and evading rationing through poaching and foraging. As the South Wales Evening Post put it: ‘Many people wonder how Gypsies get off with food rationing. It is understood, however, that hedgehogs are not rationed.’”
The hedgehog is part of Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or (01723) 384510.