While hedgehogs across most of Britain have been in a worryingly steep decline, those in the Channel Islands fare better since they have no natural predators — and that has meant a strange quirk has taken place on the tiny island of Alderney.
It’s easy to spot hedgehogs in Alderney and not only because there are so many of them. More than half of the island’s prickly creatures are blonde.
Their cream-coloured spines are the product of recessive genes, so they are rare in the UK. Elsewhere, the pale colouring would risk drawing the eye of predators, but Alderney has no badgers, foxes, weasels or stoats — and the creatures have been able to thrive.
They’re not native to Alderney, or indeed any of the Channel Islands. They were introduced to Alderney in the post-war period — and may have come here originally from one of London’s most famous shops.
‘It’s an Alderney legend that at least one of the hedgehogs came from Harrods,’ says Claire Thorpe of the local wildlife trust.
While the claim might sound far-fetched to readers in 2020, it’s not quite as crazy as you might think. In the long-gone past, the iconic Knightsbridge department store used to put unusual animals on display and up for sale. Perhaps the strangest example is that of Johnny, the baby gorilla bought at Harrod’s during the First World War by a serviceman home on leave, and who ended up attending a village school in Gloucestershire.
Johnny’s life came to a desperately sad end, but the blonde hedgehogs of Alderney have thrived — and have become a local icon.
And though their bright colour would make them more visible to predators on the mainland, Clare explains that being blonde on Alderney seems to be an advantage — possibly because the hedgehogs are more visible on the roads at night or because people leave food out ‘if they have a blonde visitor’.
Similar phenomena crop up elsewhere in the Channel Islands: Jersey, for example, has a healthy red squirrel population, since there are no greys on the island to compete with them.
If you’d like to try to spot a blonde hedgehog for yourself, the Alderney Wildlife Trust runs hedgehog-watching tours — www.alderneywildlife.org.
It's time to do your bit to check up on Britain's declining hedgehog population, as Annunicata Elwes reports.
In today's round-up we bring you research on hedgehogs from Reading University, a boost for the UK's oldest working suspension