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About A Week: Hedgehogs - And Other Friends

Peter Hinchliffe writes of an encounter of the prickly kind.

“That’s not a good idea,’’ said I. “You shouldn’t lie down in the middle of the road.’’

The creature gave me an odd sort of look then tightened itself into a ball.

“You’re going into that field. Come on. You’re not big enough to wrestle with cars and Transit vans.’’

When I picked up the baby hedgehog it curled around my left forefinger. It didn’t struggle too much. Probably overwhelmed by the novelty of the experience.

So was I. It isn’t every day that an amble through the leafy lanes of around the village where I live turns into a hedgehog rescue mission.

Cute creatures, hedgehogs. They automatically trigger an “ah’’ reaction in most humans. If you want to know more about them click onto the Web site of the hedgehog hospital St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital Trust at www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk

I’m not aware that any wildlife organisation has undertaken a count of the hedgehogs in the Huddersfield area, but there must be hundreds of ‘em living in these here hills.

For the most part they keep well away from humans. They go searching for food when the sun goes down.

The little critter which I saved from an almost-certain squashing in the lane near my home has obviously not yet learned to distrust animals which move around on two legs.

Glimpses of hedgehogs are rare, but despite the fact that we live in a heavily industrialised part of England there is still an astonishingly abundant amount of wildlife here.

Daily I see squirrels and rabbits. Often I have seen foxes and hares.

Once while wading through a grassy meadow I came so close to a hare that I was within a stride of treading on it.

Both of us were startled by the close encounter. The hare rose up like a rocket from a silo and sprinted towards a distant hedge. My heart continued to race long after it was gone.

On moonlit nights we hear dog foxes barking in the high fields beyond our house. A heavy frost or a light snow reveals the prints of foxes which have come to explore our dustbin in a search for food.

Before we go any further I should emphasise that I am not a wildlife expert. Long years ago, when I was working in Nairobi, Kenya, my sketchy knowledge of the animal kingdom was embarrassingly spotlighted.

I was assigned to write a weekly wildlife and tourism column. It wasn’t a case of volunteering. There was no other “victim’’ for the post.

In my first month as a wildlife reporter I was offered the opportunity to count the animals in Nairobi national park.

The 44-square-mile park, which borders on the city, is for the most part unfenced. Droves of animals wander in and out from the adjoining Athi plains.

Once a month, on a Sunday morning, a team of volunteers zig-zagged across the park in Land Rovers, counting the animals in allotted survey segments.

I went on counting patrol with a senior park ranger. He drove and counted. My job was to jot down the statistics in a notebook.

We saw animals on the crest of a nearby ridge.

“Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…nineteen,’’ said the ranger.

“Nineteen,’’ said I.

“Write it down,’’ said the ranger.

“Er…yes,’’ said I in a small voice. “What are they.’’

The ranger gave me a disbelieving glance. “Wildebeest.’’

“Of course,’’ said I.

There was many another humiliation for an ignorant wildlife correspondent on that particular morning.

Now I can tell the difference between a rabbit and a hare, a lapwing and a skylark. There's a deep pleasure in encountering furred and feathered friends on my daily rounds.

And comfort in knowing that the wild kingdom continues to thrive on the margins of human hustle and bustle.

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