Many years ago I got somewhat hooked on a classic computer game called SimCity. There, I’ve said it. It feels good to finally get that out in the open. So what’s that got to do with the real, natural world, you might ask? Or WWF? Or hedgehogs? Well, SimCity was all about balance…
Essentially it was a town planning game (I realise I’m not selling this well) where you could build roads and parks, buildings, homes and so on with the click of a mouse.
Get it right and people flock to your city, they’re happy, you’re happy, you build more stuff, a token bit of greenery in a park, they drive around, everything’s rosy.
Get it wrong (normally through some innocent and well intentioned change) and there’s crime, war, Godzilla, famine, pestilence… you get the idea.
It was all about getting the balance right.
Now, I could easily use this addictive game to draw parallels with the capitalist model of growth… but actually I’m going to draw parallels with the delicate and ongoing balance between people, urbanisation, and nature. With specific reference to my own garden. And hedgehogs.
Since moving into my house six years ago I’ve been trying to reclaim my garden, from its wildlife-friendly but not-family-friendly (where’s-my-child-gone?) wilderness state, into a garden fit for all.
What I’ve discovered is that almost every change has come at a price to something else. Concrete slabs removed = a nicer garden, more growing space. But nice new lawn = no more large wild flower area, fewer bees, less cover for wildlife.
So we planted borage for the bees, which looks lovely (you can even use its edible flowers in Pimms) – but it grows tall, seeds everywhere and takes over. And it’s prickly.
This year I’ve planted bee-friendly flowers and herbs as well as vegetables, having made raised beds in homage to the Good Life.
But I’ve been increasingly obsessed with protecting my growing efforts from slugs, snails, and if necessary from puppy dog tails – anything that threatens our produce before we can eat it.
I’ve tried many things to deter the merciless slug army eating all in its path –with limited success. Actually, with no success. Eggshells, copper tape, organic non-harming slug pellets to distract and dissuade, harsh language. All have failed to stop the slimy menace.
Then, having read Dave Hamilton’s piece in The Guardian, I decided to try enticing a hedgehog to come and live in my garden and eat my slugs. Taking Mr Hamilton‘s advice, I created a ‘wildlife corridor’.
This involved ‘deciding’ to let a large chunk of the garden grow wild (I now realise I was always instinctively wildlife-friendly as a gardener, not lazy at all). I created a wood-pile at the bottom of the hedge, and made sure there were access points to the garden.
Then I waited. And waited. No hedgehog. It was frustrating – especially as I’d seen hedgehogs many years before in the garden, but perhaps they’d been put off by my garden-changing efforts. I confess that for someone with my 21st century level of (im)patience and need for instant gratification, I couldn’t cope with the lack of immediate success.
So in despair I finally tried the nuclear option on the slugs. Chemical pellets. Lordy how they worked. I walked out the next day into the quiet of the morning air and saw what I had done. To misquote Colonel Kilgore from ‘Apocalypse Now’, my garden did not look or smell like victory…
I abandoned that tactic straight away.
But then amazingly, just two days after ‘slugocalypse’, while sitting in the garden during a brief respite from the rain, I heard a curious huffing noise from under the hazel contortia.
According to one hedgehog website this could be a hog either engaging in a show of strength or courting. Or perhaps both. I’m English so it was all I could do to remain in the same garden.
Opting to look purposefully in the other direction, I saw another hog ambling along the newly created wildlife corridor towards the hazel. Either it liked the new smoother highway or, more likely, it had heard the huffing and was on a promise.
I was and remain truly chuffed to see hedgehogs in my garden, particularly in light of the predictions of their demise around the country.
I just have to hope now, if I can use the old SimCity analogy, that my ‘pellet bombing’ won’t have disturbed the balance too much and caused the hogs to move on.
I definitely won’t be putting slug pellets down again – they can be bad for hedgehogs in more ways than one.
The slugs have been making a healthy return to the garden, so I need my prickly allies to stick around. And hopefully I can convince them to rise up against the Spanish invader ‘stealth slug’ (I’m assuming an American named this one), then we’re set.
For more about hedgehogs, have a look at a couple of pages on the BBC website.