'Please don't': Hedgehog lover's library talk crashed by Forest and Bird video

Jay Boreham/FAIRFAX NZ

Lesley Wheatley is caring for around 25 hedgehogs this winter.

Are hedgehogs spiky bundles of joy, or deadly predators destroying New Zealand's environment?

Debate has erupted following a library talk on work to rescue ailing hedgehogs and successfully release them back into the wild. 

Lesley Wheatley of Hedgehog Rescue New Zealand hosted the talk at Orewa Library in north Auckland to teach adults and children about hedgehogs, and give a shout out for volunteers to help foster animals while they recuperate.

Wheatley has been rescuing hedgehogs for four years.
JAY BOREHAM/STUFF

Wheatley has been rescuing hedgehogs for four years.

Wheatley, who has rescued hedgehogs for around four years, also talked about how hedgehogs get a bad rap about being disease and flea ridden.

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Before the talk started, Forest and Bird's Pauline Smith crashed it to inform people about the darker side of hedgehogs.

Lesley Wheatley says she owes spending time with her mum to a hedgehog she helped rescue.
Jay Boreham

Lesley Wheatley says she owes spending time with her mum to a hedgehog she helped rescue.

Hedgehogs preyed on native snails, skinks, ground nesting birds and their eggs, Smith said.

Smith started the Pest Free Whangaparaoa Peninsula project in 2011, where volunteers trap pests to help native birds and plants flourish.

The release of hedgehogs into the wild undermined and made a mockery of the work of volunteers, she said.

"It is a total insult to everybody's hours that they put in," she said.

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Wheatley supports the work of Forest and Bird, but also believes every creature deserves a chance to live.

Hedgehogs are released in suburbia away from areas where they could affect native birds, Wheatley said.

In places like the Stillwater to Okura bush walk, where the New Zealand dotterel and variable oystercatchers nest, Wheatley will remove hedgehogs if she sees them, so they can't prey on the birds.

Wheatley said the type of fleas that live on hedgehogs didn't arrive in New Zealand with them, and diseases and mange mites they can carry could also be caught from pets or cattle.

She also wanted to dispel the myth that all hedgehogs seen during the day were sick, as in late spring females are out working to create nests.

"They're out there busy gathering bits of hay, grass and moss, whatever they can find, and it might be under your deck, shed, or whatever, but they don't need rescuing.  

"They're just about to have babies - so please don't bring them into care," Wheatley said.

Wheatley has had a soft spot for hedgehogs since someone brought her a sick one and asked her to look after it five years ago.

It was covered in mange mites which bit her, and meant a day off work to go to the doctors.  That day she visited her mother who died suddenly four days later.

The two had deep and meaningful conversations, which meant she got closure on a number of topics before her mother died, Wheatley said.

"I kind of owe the hedgehogs a bit, because without that I wouldn't have had time with my mother."

The Department of Conservation kills hedgehogs on its land, but releasing them doesn't breach the Biosecurity Act, as they are not classed as an unwanted organism, Ministry for Primary Industries manager, recovery and pest management John Sanson said.

"They are not managed under a national pest management plan, so MPI doesn't have any direct interest in this issue.

There were no plans to manage them under a national plan or other national pest programme led by MPI, he said.

Under Auckland Council's Auckland Regional Pest Management Strategy, hedgehogs are a declared pest in Auckland but are only controlled from establishing on Hauraki Gulf Islands.

Hedgehogs are also exempt from the Government's Predator Free 2050 target, which will target possums, stoats and rats.

 - Stuff

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