British Hedgehogs are now officially classified as vulnerable to extinction but the human threat to hedgehogs is by no means new.
Hedgehogs in History
There have been all kinds of superstitions and myths around the humble hedgehog. One such belief was that they use their spines to take the impact, if they should fall from a height. Or that they collect food by rolling around and skewering it on their spines and then carry it home to store.
Generally, in Christianity the poor hedgehog seems to be depicted as the evil one or as doing evil. In Irish lore the Hedgehog is associated with witches that would take on their form and then suck dairy cows dry. In China, the hedgehog is one of five sacred, but not to be messed animals which also includes the fox, weasel, snake and rat. In Slavic tales the hedgehog is considered the keeper of knowledge and order and the embodiment of magical power.
In 1539 King Henry VIII passed the preservation of grain Act, one of many Tudor acts that listed a number of birds and “vermin”, the killing of which was rewarded with a bounty.
It offered bounties consistent with the species potential to cause a nuisance from 12p for a fox or badger down to 1p for a Red Kite.
In 1566 Queen Elizabeth I then bolstered the original bill and the statute set the price at 2p per hedgehog head, which was double that of a wild cat or small mustelid!
This might not sound like much, even in today’s money it would only be a couple of pounds but it’s important to remember that most people were cripplingly poor. This goes someway to explain why so many bounties were claimed.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, half a million bounties were paid on hedgehogs alone*! The fact that the bounty was higher for hedgehogs than for cats or small mustelids reflects the strength of the belief that they were significant egg thieves, or that they would drink dairy cows dry in the night!
I recommend this website for further reading about hedgehogs in general:
*Roger Lovegrove’s book Silent Fields