United Kingdom

His Royal Spine-ness! Prince Charles adopts three baby HEDGEHOGS

Prince Charles has adopted three baby hedgehogs at Dumfries House. 

Staff at the Ayrshire estate are hoping the animals - two females and one male - will lead to a breeding boom of Royal hoglets, partly to keep down slugs and other pests in the prince's treasured organic gardens.

The hedgehogs, believed to be four months old, have taken up residence in the estate's five-acre Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden after being nursed back to a healthy weight by volunteers from Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Charles, as patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, has led the fightback against that animal's demise, but has now turned his attention to another of the country's threatened native mammals.

The hedgehogs that were relocated to Dumfries House were autumn juveniles, meaning they were born too late in the year to put on enough weight for hibernation, a spokesperson for Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue told MailOnline.     

Pictured: One of the three hedgehogs delivered to the estate by Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue

Charles, as patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, has led the fightback against that animal's demise, but has now turned his attention to another of the country's threatened native mammals

They added: 'These young hedgehogs are usually spotted foraging in the daytime, as they try to find more food. As less natural food is available by late September/October, this strategy rarely works. 

'More energy is expended than is gained from the small amount of food found. Some of these hedgehogs require treatment with a wormer and antibiotics. 

'After that most of them gain weight steadily, and are kept in care till they weigh 700gm. At this weight we know they are ready to hibernate.' 

Julie Dougall, an educational gardener based in the organic-certified Kauffman Education Garden at Dumfries House, said the new arrivals enriched the biodiversity of the estate.

She said: 'I just think it's great to get as much wildlife into the estate as we can, and we became aware that Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue, a brilliant Ayrshire charity, were looking to rehome some hedgehogs.

'We welcomed one male and two female hedgehogs earlier this month, and I'm sure they'll be great for the education of children we typically have here on the estate, particularly when they're learning about the food cycle.

'We're trying to bring a biodiversity of wildlife back into the estate. If the hedgehogs breed, great. The more, the better! 

'It would be excellent for the species and for the estate. The education garden is organic and they're basically a pesticide that doesn't harm the soil, taking care of bugs, slugs, and snails.'

One of the new custom-built hedgehog homes. Volunteer Tom Anderson, from Mauchline, has constructed bijou, customised hedgehog houses for the new residents by upcycling timber found on the estate

The estate values its volunteers from the local community, one of whom, Tom Anderson from Mauchline, has constructed bijou, customised hedgehog houses for the new residents by upcycling timber found on the estate.

The mild weather has delayed the start of hibernation, meaning many more hedgehogs have been handed in to Hessilhead volunteers in recent weeks.

Dumfries House, the stately home saved for the nation by Charles - and where The Prince's Foundation is now headquartered - may rehome more and plans to involve children in the surrounding community in the naming of its new arrivals.

'We'd love to give more hedgehogs and other rescued wildlife a home on the estate,' says Ms Dougall. 'It would be good to allow schoolchildren to name our new residents, as it brings them closer to the estate and helps them become involved.'

How hedgehog numbers have plummeted from 30 million to less than one million in 70 years 

Hedgehogs give birth in June and July, and they have an average litter size of four or five young, but can have up to seven. However, they usually only wean two or three successfully. The mother is liable to desert or even eat hoglets if she is disturbed.

Over winter, most hedgehogs will be hibernating. They may wake a little during their hibernation, but will remain inactive unless disturbed or when the weather has turned extremely mild.

The UK was home to more than 30 million hedgehogs in the 1950s but, today, it's estimated that there is less than a million left.

Hedgehog populations in rural areas have halved this century and fallen by 30% in towns and cities, with the population believed to have declined by more than 90% since WW2.

The inclusion earlier this year of the hedgehog in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List for British Mammals was not a surprise the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).

The campaign Hedgehog Street - which BHPS runs in partnership with People's Trust for Endangered Species - encourages people to connect gardens with small 13cm square holes.

'What people do on behalf of the hedgehog is amazing,' said Fay Vass, CEO of the BHPS. 'The holes made in fences, the feeding, the hedgehog houses, the wildlife friendly planting, the removal of hazards - all makes such a difference locally.

'But it is not enough to rely on the good will of individuals to protect this important creature.

'We need Government to enforce wildlife friendly practices. From farming to development to transport - wildlife needs to be taken seriously.'

The BHPS is calling on Government, in the light of the new internationally recognised classification, to increase the protection offered to the hedgehog under the Wildlife and Countryside Act by moving it to schedule 5, allowing the level of protection appropriate for such a keystone species in decline. 

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