How do you track a hedgehog?

One non-invasive option is to use a wildlife survey tunnel in an area you suspect there may be hedgehogs. Our Hedgehog Friendly Campus team (a mixture of students, College gardeners and other College staff) recently attended an online training course teaching us how to set up these tunnels, and how to interpret the footprints gathered, and we did our first survey this week.

A MS Teams meeting with a slide showing hedgehog footprints. The slide text says "Hedgehog tracks look a little like tiny human hands! Large central pad, 4 finger-like toes".

After learning what hedgehog tracks look like (tiny human hands, about the size of a human thumbprint) and receiving our flat-packed survey tunnels in the post, we were ready to go. The prism-shaped tunnels have a removable insert, which we tacked blank sheets of paper to. Then we added a home-made ink pad, made by coating strips of masking tape with an animal-safe ink (organic charcoal powder mixed with vegetable oil). The final thing to go in was a small bowl filled with meaty cat or dog food – we used kitten biscuits.

Two members of the Hedgehog Friendly Campus team hammer in a peg to secure a survey tunnel along a hedge in the front garden of 76 Storey's Way.

As we knew there were hedgehogs at nearby Fitzwilliam College, we placed our two tunnels on the eastern side of College – Tunnel 1 behind Cowan Court along the hedge bordering Madingley Road, and Tunnel 2 in the garden of 76 Storey’s Way. In both cases, we made sure the tunnels were pegged down securely right up against a hedge, to maximise the chances of being on a hedgehog’s route.

We knew not to expect much activity for the first couple of days as it would take a little while for wildlife to get used to the odd new feature in the landscape. On Day 1, we found nothing at all in Tunnel 1, but a small rodent had left a very clear track through Tunnel 2. Prints were about 1cm in size, probably a mouse but it could have been a vole or a shrew which all leave virtually identical footprints.

Small rodent footprints in black ink on a piece of white paper, with a ruler for scale. The prints are about 1cm in size, and each is made up of tiny dots showing 4 toes and central pads.

On Day 2, we found small rodent tracks on Tunnel 1, and someone (likely a fox) had been chewing on Tunnel 2.

Day 3 saw lots more small rodent activity in both tunnels, and several bite marks had also been left on the side of Tunnel 1.

On Day 4 we were surprised to find the empty food bowl from Tunnel 1 about half a metre away from the tunnel, with some interesting prints left inside. Possibly a determined fox or cat?

A hedgehog survey tunnel with an empty ceramic bowl lying on the grass about half a metre away from the tunnel.
Black ink smeared over a white piece of paper in two lines, like drag marks.

MCR Green Officer Nick Koenig did the final check of our 5 day survey on Saturday. He found lots more small rodent tracks, quite a difference compared to the solitary track on day 1!

A white piece of paper with lots of small rodent footprints in black ink.

Although we were sad not to see any signs of hedgehogs, over the course of the week a fair number of other animals have walked through our tunnels! We know there have been hedgehogs around campus in the past, so next time we will try some different locations for our tunnels, and over time we will build up a picture of the wildlife who live on our campus. If you would like to join in our Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign, please email Nicola.Meidlinger@chu.cam.ac.uk

By Annie Gleeson, College Librarian