About a year ago, a woman I’d got to know, Julia Blazer, told me about an idea she’d had. ‘You know how brilliant it is when people buy you an experience as a present instead of just another THING? Well, wouldn’t it be great if you could buy someone an experience – something really really different – that had an added value? What if you could offer something that was a good day out in more than one way?’
Julia’s idea was to compile a selection of experience days based around good causes. My initial reaction was one of scepticism, on two levels. Could this be construed as being too goody-goody to be fun? After all, charitable giving tends to err on the side of duty rather than pleasure. My second concern was for Julia herself. Something of a maverick genius, and an artist herself, I was worried that she could end up spending a lot of time and effort putting something together that just wouldn’t be commercially viable.
A few months later, though, and the website for A Good Day Out was up and running. Seeing all the different experiences that Julia has put together suddenly made me ‘get’ the appeal. You can choose from a diverse range of experiences selected to appeal to all interests, age groups and price ranges: to be perfectly honest I’d like to have a go at all of them. Bushcraft and Falconry, Canyoning, mountaineering with navigation? Yep. Sculpture, pottery or needle felting? Yep. A cruise with music, lessons in astronomy or even having a go at hedgelaying? Yes, yes and yes!
When i was a kid I reckoned myself as a hero to wildlife. That is, I’d rescue spiders and re home them away from plugholes, had hand-reared orphaned birds, and, best of all, had a ‘pet’ baby hedgehog whose life I was convinced I had saved when I’d found him cornered by cats. So when it came to buying myself a birthday present I opted to make my dreams come true (for a few hours at least) by opting for the Hedgerow Helper experience.
At Howey Hedgehog Rescue, me and 2 other rookie hedgehog helpers are given a warm welcome by Nigel and Elaine, proprietors of the organisation, and Leslie, one of their essential volunteers. And we’re pitched straight into the action, cleaning out the den of 6 orphaned baby hedgehogs. It’s a smelly job, to be honest, but not that bad and we are given disposable gloves and tabards.
‘These came in just a couple of days ago’, Nigel tells me. ‘A litter of 6 is unusual. We’re not sure what happened to the mother, but she did well to keep these little ones alive’. If you like cute, you’re in trouble with baby hedgehogs. I did think about slipping one in my pocket but that would have been wrong, all wrong.
Here’s one of the babies being weighed. There are currently 18 hedgehogs, including the babies, at the sanctuary. Each is weighed every day: this is a key indicator to the health of the animal, and all the hoglets had put on a little weight, testimony to the diligent care of the team.
Here, three of the babies cautiously come out from underneath their heat mat, wrapped in newspaper, to slurp up a bowl of goats milk. Warmth is imperative to the survival of young hoglets, and cows milk makes hedgehogs ill… If you have to feed hedgehogs at any point, use chicken flavoured dog or cat food rather than the traditional bread and milk.
Next, we go outside to tend to the hedgehogs, many of them about to go into hibernation, who are recovering in the safety of the Hedgehog Hotels in Nigel and Elaine’s gorgeous garden. Each hog has its own custom-built dorm, with a sleeping area and a food area. And each animal is weighed, its room meticulously cleaned and fresh food – consisting of dog food, a sort of muesli, water and a bowl of high-protein mash – put out.
Nigel gives one of the hedgehogs -Joe, I think it is- a cuddle
Kenzo, a big beautiful chap who is a permanent resident, pops out to make sure room service has delivered his breakfast
Nigel tells me that the hedgehog population level, always a difficult thing to measure, is declining. He cites concrete, tidy, fenced- in gardens, pesticides, poor hedgerow management, and, of course, traffic accidents as significant factors. Looking into it later, I find that www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk states some scary statistics: that the population of hedgehogs has declined by 25% in the last ten years, and that this is just the tail end of a dramatic loss: in the 1950s there were believed to be 50 million hedgehogs in the UK which had diminished to 1.5 million in 1995. It gets worse. An article in The. Guardian, dated January 2013, has declined by yet another 30% in the years from 2003 to 2012. There are now fewer than a million hedgehogs here, and their situation is perilous. The number of hedgehogs killed by cars, for example, is vast, running into tens of thousands.
Howey Hedgehog Rescue have seen more than one hundred hedgehogs come through their doors just this year. Many have been released back into the wild, to take their chances. A few didn’t make it. And there are a fortunate few who will become permanent residents here.
All in all, my Good Day Out was thought provoking, informative and immense fun. And it was good to know that me small cost of the experience will allow the amazingly dedicated team at Howey can carry on their work.
The helpers and team…Pen, Elaine, , Steve, Lesley and Nigel