10. Bloodshed In Nynehead

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. (Sherlock Holmes)

At about 10 a.m. on 20th April 2021 I went out of the back door and noticed a trail of blood  from the hedgehog feeder, up some steps and onto the rear lawn. Further investigation revealed the following. [A £1 coin is included (free!) in the images for size comparison.]

A bloodied area c. 8” x 4” inside the feeder with confused footprints leading to/from the entrance. The entrance to the feeder, to the right of the image below, is restricted to 5” wide x 4” high. Inside the feeder is about 12” wide x 4” high.

Tracks went from the feeder towards a drinker where there was a large pool of uncongealed blood c. 4” x 3” and more foot prints. Distance from the feeder to the drinker is c. 4 feet. [The drinker has been cleaned!]

From the drinker the footprints followed a route taken regularly by hedgehogs, but whether the bloody footprints were those of a hedgehog is unclear to me. Passing the drinker the tracks went towards a vegetable midden [* see foot note] contained within concrete lintels – a distance of another 4 feet. The footsteps mounted the 2 foot long lintel. Hedgehogs often take a short-cut along the lintel, to go through the midden before mounting the steps. On this occasion the footprints went straight along the whole length of the lintel without entering the midden.

The footprints were not very clear in outline, but here is a close-up of one of the clearer ones from the lintel.

Descending from the end of the lintel onto the path another clearish footprint was photographed.

Mounting the steps the footprints ascended to the upper lawned area of the garden. From the midden to the foot of the steps is c. 2 feet. In the next image the bottom step is to the right. From bottom to top of the steps is about 4 feet. Adult hedgehogs ascend quite easily and rapidly, juveniles less so. Descent is a more hesitant affair, often with dithering at the lip of each step. The progress of bloody imprints suggests ascent.

After ascending the steps bloodied imprints were left on a couple of inset paving stones before leaving a trail over recently mowed grass, then followed the right hand edge of a circular patio, with a further clear trail of prints on the stones, and crossed more grass towards a shed. Turning westward the trail continued over a tin tray lying in the path of whatever was on the move.

The distance from the top of the steps to the patio is c. 8 feet; the tracks across the patio another 4 feet, and from there to the tin tray above a further 12 feet. Thereafter the route lay over grass. Progress seems to have paused briefly judging by a somewhat scattered area of uncongealed blood from which the trail continued to its terminus.

A close-up [below] of the blood at this point shows ants feeding on it. No ants were observed feeding on the more plentiful supply of blood some 4 feet away at the end of the trail. My assumption at the time was that if the blood had only been recently shed, the ants had not yet discovered it all which would tend to support a ‘late’ time for whatever happened.

The distance to this point from the tray is c. 9 feet and from here a final distance of 4 feet led to the end of the trail under a garden seat by a wall where there was a another considerable amount of blood covering an area of about 6 square inches. Rich pickings for ants but none were yet in evidence.

There was no other trail of blood leading away from the garden seat. No indication was found as to the source of the blood. No fur, feathers, prickles, bones or other remains were seen, either along the trail or elsewhere in the garden. The footprints were noticeably bloody throughout and seemed not to ‘fade’ as would happen if they were the result of stepping in blood. On close inspection there was sufficient blood or active bleeding to leave a visible trail of footprints across the grass, which had all been recently mowed.

Each individual footprint measured about 1¼” long by about ¾” wide but their outline was far from clear or distinct. The distance between prints was some 4” to 5” and the span of the steps i.e. between left and right feet was c. 1”. This would seem to be at variance with images on the internet of hedgehog footrints. The steps were regularly spaced and appeared controlled e.g. the straight line of imprints along the length of the lintel. The footprints were consistently spaced and suggested steady progress walking rather than running or hopping.

I have assumed the direction of travel was from the feeder to the bench but this may not be correct. The feeder and the bench represent the only two observed termini. No blood or other remains were found elsewhere and the direction of travel was unidirectional, with no evidence of an animal having been, say, attacked in the open before retreating into the feeder then ‘bolting’ along the route outlined above.

No broken glass or other sharp object was found that could have caused a serious (or any!) injury. If the cause of the bleeding was an attack of some sort the lack of other evidence such as fur or feathers seems inexplicable unless the victim had neither e.g. a toad. I have occasionally seen toads here. Does anything or anyone eat toads? other than those in holes by humans.

A trail camera was in operation throughout the preceding night [19/20 April] and appeared to be functioning correctly with 32 short video sequences of hedgehogs and cats. No spilt blood or the shedding thereof was recorded. Having spotted the blood a test recording from the same viewpoint was made at 11:00 to establish whether the blood that was clearly visible to the naked eye would be visible on video. It was not. However it seems unlikely that the blood could have been there at the time the last cat was recorded at 03:40, because the animal’s olfactory investigation did not include those areas where blood was later observed. [This cat is well known to me because it has impaired sight in its left eye. Had there been fresh blood in the quantity later observed it would almost certainly have lapped it up.] Similarly the last hedgehog, recorded at 05:30, showed no interest or curiosity in the areas subsequently observed to be bloodied. This 05:30 hedgehog in fact took the ‘regular’ direction previously referred to, i.e. up the steps and across the lawn following much the same track as the bloody footprints. From previous observation it is most likely to have crossed the grass and patio before turning westwards past the bench where the bloody trail finished and continued wetwards across a lawn, before creeping under a fence onto a neighbouring property.

I turned the camera off at about 06:30 on the morning of the 20th to download the night’s recorded video. I also checked the feeder for signs of feeding and, finding some food remaining, opened the feeder to remove the dish and food. I am not always very observant but think it unlikely I would have missed the blood had it been there at that stage [i.e. 06:30] when it was already full daylight. After all, I noticed blood immediately I went out of the back door 3½ hours later which suggests that whatever sanguinary event took place most probably occurred between 06:30 and 10:00 i.e. in broad daylight – but, in deference to Mr Holmes, it is not impossible it happened earlier.

On the following night of the 20th the bloodied areas appeared equally uninteresting to either hedgehogs or cats. The inside of the feeder and main spillage of blood by the drinker etc were not cleaned up till the following day, the 21st April.

The camera is not normally on during the day. It is there primarily to record hedgehogs, which it does on a nightly basis in varying numbers. The only other animals recorded at night are up to five or six neighbourhood cats and some mice. Very occasionally the odd rat is recorded but the latter generally only in winter and when it is wet. On even fewer occasions the camera has recorded an occasional rabbit in summer on the path where the feeder is located. After considerable experimentation cats have been excluded from the feeder by obstructing and reducing the entrance to 5″ x 4″. The food placed in the feeder is meat; usually raw minced beef and cat biscuit, sometimes supplemented with cooked scraps of other meat – but never pork. There was nothing placed in the feeder containing uncoagulated blood.

Post Script. On the night of the 20th April, hedgehogs and cats appeared to go about their normal business without batting and eyelid at the recent carnage, traces of which had not been cleaned up and were still evident the following morning. On the 21st April I left the camera switched on till 10:00 in the hope the malefactor might revisit the scene of the crime, but no such luck, so I’m none the wiser. The site was cleaned up after that.

* MIDDENS. In earlier posts an upright, lidded, plastic waste bin can be seen, generally just to the left of the steps. I noticed that hedgehogs would often spend a considerable amount of time around this bin. I assumed they were attracted by the smell, on occasions even stench, of rotting vegetable matter, which presumably the hedgehogs associate with the presence of insects and invertebrates who lay their eggs in or actively consume such stuff, gradually turning it into compost. As insects and invertebrates form the bulk of a hedgehog’s diet I decided to experiment with an open waste-pit or midden which would allow hedgehogs free access to whatever animals might be in the vegetable waste. This seems to be entirely successful if a little unsightly and the smell is vastly reduced and improved compared to that emanating from the plastic bin. Plus I have no stinking bin to clean, but I do turn the heap once a week and deposit half the midden heap into compost bins. Hedgehogs almost invariably enter the midden when passing, and disturbed flying insects can be seen on camera. Hedgehogs seem not to be great diggers but will scratch about diligently and are not infrequently rewarded with something which they eat with evident relish. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) are equally happy with the midden.