A workers' cooperative growing food on London's edge in the Lea Valley

Guest blog: Hedgehog survey at Hawkwood

Heyo, I’m Christie, I have been on and off volunteering at OrganicLea since 2018 and had a 6-month work placement in admin and production at the beginning of 2022. I now study Environmental Conservation at Bangor but always make sure to volunteer whenever I am back in London. I love the atmosphere that this place holds, I have done all sorts of tasks on site and when I heard about how to do a hedgehog survey at Uni, I immediately thought that I wanted to do it at Hawkwood.

Measuring wood
Measuring wood

The idea was to make and set up five hedgehog footprint tunnels, they are a useful way to find out if there are hedgehogs on a site but don’t provide numbers. When I got home, within the first week I raided my garden for scrap wood and my dad watched over me as I used his circular saw to cut it into 15 panels of 23cm x 100cm. I brought all the wood to OrganicLea on Wednesday 21st of June and got to screwing it together in the workshop, long sides together. After making the tunnels, I then made the main ingredient of them: the cardboard slits.

For a footprint tunnel survey you need to have a way of getting footprints in the tunnels, on these cardboard slits, were a section in the middle for putting the hedgehog food (from pets at home), either side I placed masking tape then covered it in ink, a formula of ash (from the bonfire) and vegetable oil (from the corner shop) and then at the end was a piece of A4 paper. The theory is that a hedgehog will sniff out the food and walk into the tunnels, as they get to the food, they step in the ink and upon exiting they tread on the paper and leave behind their footprints. These cardboard slits were to go inside the tunnel, removable so I could check them easily each day.

Food set-up
Food and ink set-up

On Monday the 26th of June I set up the tunnels, and every day from Tuesday to Saturday I checked them, changed the paper, then topped up the ink and food if needed. On Wednesday I knew it was going to rain so I had to waterproof the tunnels. For Tunnel number 1 I put an upturned gutter on the top of it and prayed that it would do the job and for the others I wrapped them in miscellaneous plastic I found around site, I believe I wrapped tunnel 4 in a bin bag. Retrieving the paper on Thursday was a soggy situation.

Before checking the tunnels for the first time, I was quite worried that absolutely nothing would show, I didn’t know if they would be able to get into the tunnels, the ground was uneven and I had to place sticks and leaves to level it out and make ramps to the entrances; I was unsure my ink would stick to their feet and most of all I didn’t even know if anything would show up. Would the cat eat the food before any other creature could get to it? Whenever I mentioned this project to people on site, most said it had been a verry long time since they had seen hedgehogs, if they had even seen them. Although I had also been told that some hedgehogs were released on site some years back, so that gave me a glimmer of hope.

Hedgehog footprints are like a cat’s footprints but much smaller, a blob in the middle with small dots surrounding it, I remember hearing at the workshop that sometimes there is two small dots at the back but from the way the hedgehog walks they might not always be seen, I made sure to keep that in mind. Most of the other small rodents’ footprints look like an odd cluster of dots, the hedgehog is the only one with a bigger blob in the middle.

Tunnel 1
Tunnel 1

Tunnel 1

Location: next to the Western fence beside the nature reserve and behind the borehole cabin.

This Tunnel had the most activity from day one and put my heart at ease and across the entire week it had the same regularity of visitors. On Monday night, although a cat had come for the food there were lots of small footprints. These smaller footprints were so clustered and chaotic that it is hard to exactly distinguish what was there, I soon realized that, yes, my tunnels worked, but perhaps a bit too well, I couldn’t identify the ink splodges. Thankfully one side of the tunnel was walked in less, so the footprints were more distinguishable. There were also some stains of yellow which I have assumed to be pee and the cat only intruded the tunnel on the first day.

Tunnel 2
Tunnel 2

Tunnel 2

Location: also on the West, placed a little further down behind the Salad Terrace, there is a school on the other side of the fence.

Bringing me back to my fears and reality came tunnel number 2 which had absolutely no visitors.. Or at least for the first three days, proving that persistence is key in a survey. On the evening of Thursday the 29th of June, some hedgehogs decided to trundle a little further down the fence-line and found this tunnel, maybe the slugs told them where to go, I had seen plenty of them hanging about before I got these visitors. And they again returned on the final day of my survey along with a cat and some other creature that really likes the taste of paper and cardboard.

Tunnel 3 - with results
Tunnel 3 – with results

Tunnel 3

Location: upon the Northernmost fence, beside the forest next to the vineyard.

The scene of a mystery, bringing me drama and excitement. When I approached Tunnel number 3 for the first time on the Tuesday I was struck with deep confusion, the cardboard panel seemed to be missing, I then spotted it a couple meters away and it was upside down, I realized that the tunnel looked off but I didn’t immediately recognize that it had in fact been flipped over onto its other side. After that incident I made sure to keep duct tape in my pocket to reinforce my cardboard panels, I had to tape the food dish walls back onto it. I collected the paper from one side of the slit but the only evidence it portrayed was that of foul play: scratches. My assumption is that a fox sniffed out the food but unable to reach it, it upturned the tunnel and dragged out the cardboard, stealing all the food and escaping the crime scene. On the second day when I checked this site I found a similar scene, although the tunnel was the right way up, the fox must have realized it needn’t have caused all the ruckus to pull out the cardboard, more distinct prints were made on these sheets but nevertheless, no hedgehogs. After the rain and me covering the tunnel in large sticks in hopes the foxes wouldn’t attack, there was one more attempt on the night of the 29th to get to the food but after ripping off the date of my paper and clawing at it, the fox must have given up and then there was no activity at this site for the rest of the survey aside from a couple slugs and the paper falling victim to some bugs.

Tunnel 4 - after visitors
Tunnel 4 – after visitors

Tunnel 4

Location: also placed on a fence beside the forest but this one was to the East between the Old Kitchen Garden and the Springfield in the ancient woodland section.

This tunnel also received mixed visitors, similar to Tunnel 1, on the night of the 26th, Tunnel 4 had both a cat visitor as well as some smaller footprints which I believe to be that of a hedgehogs. Tunnel 4 brought us another win, but only occasionally. On the 27th a creature which I assume to be a fox dragged out the cardboard slit leaving behind some of my favourite prints, the fact that it didn’t just walk into the tunnel to get the food makes me believe it was a fox over a cat. This creature was truly determined, the footprints are in a line where it must have been pulling back the paper. On the 28th the rain frightened away the fox and the cat but not the hedgehogs as they had more prominent prints that day, but they didn’t take all of the food. On the 29th the cat came back, but it didn’t scare away the hedgehogs, they must have come at different times, confusing me somewhat, the cat prints were quite light but there was a huge dent in the ink where it seemingly pushed it away, or slipped on it, I haven’t a clue but it is fun to imagine what must have happened. On the final night of the survey a few hedge-prints dotted the page.

Tunnel 5
Tunnel 5

Tunnel 5

Location: In the Entrance Field along the Southernmost fence beside the start of the forest.

“I’m intrigued to know what you find in the entrance field” ~ Production worker Ru

I have seen before the small cute eyes of a mouse peeking underneath the flowerbeds of the entrance field, I have seen slugs and snails, gotten distracted by ladybirds on my way, and every day when I pulled out the cardboard slit for Tunnel number 5 I would find ruffled paper and holes, and teeny tiny dots all left behind by small bugs and occasionally some slime but not once did any noticeable footprints show up and I never had to change the paper or top up the food. My notes for tunnel number 5 were: ‘Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nil. Nada’ and ‘Nothing. Nothing. Nope. Na. Nada’.


This week of surveying was certainly interesting, and I went on a roller-coaster of emotions from finding lots, to nothing, to deep confusion, then sprinkles of joy then disappointment and it was all wonderful. For the first few days I was unsure if what I had found was in fact hedgehog prints or if I was getting prematurely hopeful, I didn’t want to get everyone on site excited that I had found hedgehogs when I had just found mice and rats maybe voles. But when I showed the prints around, words came to me like “surely” and “it’s got to be” and “yeah, they’re totally hedgehog prints”. About a month after I had done this, Gary (one of the production team) told me he had seen a hedgehog on the wildlife cameras and in my mind, it was confirmed, I had found hedgehog prints, we do have the little guys on site! I am so happy to have done this and to have been allowed to run around site for 6 days straight, so thank you to everyone.

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