Close this search box.

The History of Barnes Hedgehogs

The History of Barnes Hedgehogs

I started Barnes Hedgehogs  approximately 12 years ago, writes Michel Birkenwald, the founder of local wildlife conservation initiative Barnes Hedgehogs. I lived on Elm Grove Road back then, and behind my garden was a very long alleyway between Elm Grove and Rocks Lane. My darling late Border Terrier used to play with a toy hedgehog, until one evening he came across a real one in my garden. He was confused and barking like mad so I came to his rescue, or rather, the hedgehog’s.

The hedgehog was simply gorgeous and knowing very little about them (I am a jeweller by trade), I had to find out more. I quickly realised they needed help. I also realised the culprit of their demise was mainly humans, rather then badgers: although badgers are responsible for their decline, man is the hedgehog assassin number one.

You have to remember, hedgehogs have been around for thousands of years, coexisting with badgers. But due to factors like dry weather, shortage of water, and obstacles like roads and garden fences, they end up looking for the same food (worms, beetles, slugs, small eggs) in a small territory, so hungry badgers are killing and eating hedgehogs. But if they were in a larger area with plenty of food, it would be a very different situation.

Barnes used to be all market gardens and vegetable plantations for London. The remaining hedgehogs we have in Barnes are the descendants of the Victorian gardeners’ helpers, they keep the slug and snail populations under control. I quickly realised they needed to access the network of local gardens to eat, bread, nest and survive.

In the days after discovering my first hedgehogs, I asked my neighbour to cut a hole the size of a CD in his fence, and I kept on asking people living all along the road to do the same. Eventually I produced a newsletter and a series of posters to offer a fence drilling service with my friend and colleague, Robin.

We invested in a lot of drillheads for timber and brick walls. We drilled over 1000 holes in Barnes and Sheen, to create our local “hedgehog highway”. The system works: hedgehogs started to appear in various gardens and local residents got involved in feeding and watering them.

In an urban area, these access holes in fences are lifesavers for hedgehogs — it’s as simple as that. Robin and I offer a drilling service for a small donation around SW London. We produce our own plaques to be fixed on top of each opening, which have our emails on them and and a sign asking people to keep the hole — the highway — open.

The tragedy we are presently facing in the past few years in Barnes is artificial grass. It’s become an epidemic and lots of people are ripping up their natural lawns and gardens and throw everything in a skip for plastic. Each time a garden is demolished it’s like a bomb, it kills everything: destroys soil life and deprives the hedgehogs and birds of their food and nesting places.

If you’d like to provide access for hedgehogs to your garden and need help with creating the opening in your fence or garden wall, please sign up for one of our hole cutting sessions. They are regularly advertised on our Eventbrite page. We’ve got more info about our local hedgehogs here.