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Little Silver Hedgehog - How a garden visitor inspired a York jewellery designer

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 May 2019

Emma works with silver clay to make tiny hedgehogs and all manner of other beautiful beasties

Emma works with silver clay to make tiny hedgehogs and all manner of other beautiful beasties

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A hedgehog rescuer has branched out into jewellery

Hedgehog rescuer Emma Farley welcomes a new guest to her York gardenHedgehog rescuer Emma Farley welcomes a new guest to her York garden

What came first the hedgehog or the earrings? It's not a question that comes up often in interviews, but in this case it's on point.

'The hedgehogs definitely came first!' said Emma Farley, a freelance marketing specialist who also finds time to run a hedgehog rescue centre and hand-craft jewellery. 'I've always been a crafter but I didn't start making jewellery until five years ago after doing a silversmithing evening class.'

For the last six years, she has rehabilitated sick and injured hedgehogs in her wildlife garden, an urban space packed with animal and insect-friendly plants and features. Like the vast majority of rescue projects, her work is entirely self-funded. So, to help raise money for food, medication and equipment, she makes delightful charms, pendants, earrings and bracelets under the Little Silver Hedgehog brand in her home studio.

As well as tiny handcrafted silver hedgehogs, her design portfolio includes leaf prints, flowers, natural gemstones, owls, foxes and cat paw prints. She also creates bespoke items using customers' birthstones and memorial pieces for beloved pets using their ashes.

Silver birthstone charms from Emma’s fundraising Little Silver Hedgehog collectionSilver birthstone charms from Emma’s fundraising Little Silver Hedgehog collection

Emma initially learned how to cut, solder and create with sheet silver but now exclusively uses silver clay which, while more expensive, is easier to work with. She can mould it, stamp designs on it and embed gemstones into it before firing it to silver perfection. She then hand-sands each piece using a range of grits and polishes it to a high shine.

'Some people buy my pieces to support the hedgehogs but many buy them – at least initially – because they simply love the jewellery,' she said. 'When they realise they're supporting a good cause, it's like a bonus – an extra gift on top of the gift they've already bought.'

Emma has been a hedgehog rescuer since 2012, successfully returning more than 450 (and counting) animals to the wild. Whether they are orphaned, injured, sick, underweight, wounded, stuck in netting or crawling with parasites, each is treated individually, with the help of alocal vet if necessary.

'Hedgehogs are not endangered but research suggests their numbers are declining,' Emma said. 'There are somewhere in the region of a million left, compared with 30 million in the 1950s, but they are notoriously difficult to conclusively count because they're so elusive.'

Emma ensures her wildlife garden is full of animal-friendly plants and features to attract prickly visitorsEmma ensures her wildlife garden is full of animal-friendly plants and features to attract prickly visitors

Her first rescue involved a hedgehog stuck in the sticky embrace of a netted fat ball. She took it to a rescue centre that had been up and running for 25 years and was inspired by what she saw. She started fostering a few hedgehogs that were almost ready for release and, when the experienced rescuer retired, stepped up her own at-home sanctuary to fill the breach.

'My experience grew along with my interest,' said Emma. 'And, to be honest, I have not stopped learning in the six years since. If I did this for 30 years, I still wouldn't know everything. Each hedgehog rescue is different because each hedgehog is different.'

Dog attacks are not unheard of in York, netting is an increasing problem, some animals have strimming injuries and plastic is fast becoming a real issue as they either get tangled up in it or ingest it. Parasites are, however, far and away the biggest problem.

'A lot of hedgehogs pick up something called fluke from slugs and snails,' Emma explained. 'Beetles are a hedgehog's favourite food, but modern garden practises mean the insect population is dwindling, so they're having to tuck into slugs instead. Hedgehogs are not the wisest creatures either. If you dig a hole, they'll fall in it. If you net your strawberries, they'll get tangled. And they climb really well, so don't be surprised if you see a hedgehog stuck in your drainpipe.'

Emma looks after a maximum of 15-20 animals at a time and has a network of foster carers who can take on one or two when they're feeling better and almost ready to return to the wild.

'I look carefully for the right people,' she said. 'Looking after hedgehogs isn't something you can really do on a whim. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy and hard work. And you have to be prepared to deal with a lot of poo. A lot.'

April to September is the busiest time for rescues as most hedgehogs hibernate over winter. But n recent years, as their habitats have become poorer and food less plentiful, increasing numbers have not put on enough fat and are starving in their sleep.

If you see an underweight, sick or injured animal, Emma advises seeking help quickly as hedgehogs can deteriorate past the point of no return within just one or two days. And remember they are nocturnal animals, so if you see one out in daylight, the chances are it's in trouble.

'If in doubt, take the hedgehog to be checked out by someone like me,' she said. 'I can't perform miracles and, sadly, some animals die, but prompt action can make all the difference.'

Emma monitors the nocturnal comings and goings in her own garden with an inexpensive night camera. This means she can see healthy hedgehogs doing what healthy hedgehogs do (mainly eating) when they venture out after midnight and pootle about until their last meal at around 5am.

'There is something really magical about them,' she said. 'And their nocturnal adventures only make them more interesting. Each rare glimpse into their lives is a precious gift. 

For information about what to do if you find a sick or injured hedgehog, visit littlesilverhedgehog.com

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