Country diary: In the dead of night, my garden comes alive

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Nick Upton/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Nick Upton/Alamy

After two years of camera trapping in my garden, I’ve come to realise that there’s no such thing as a typical night. Even so, it still came as a surprise to play the first file on my most recent recording and see six hedgehogs congregating in the “wild corner” – a 2m x 2m square of unmown, wildflower-rich grass, bordered by elder, sloe, bramble and honeysuckle.

Four were busy foraging for invertebrates, while one rotund male attempted to court a petite female, huffing and snorting as he circled her. Another suitor trundled over and the two boars squared up to each other, while the female scurried off into the undergrowth.

For almost five hours, the hedgehogs repeatedly triggered the camera as they fed, fought, and pursued potential mates. At 1.42am, two of the three individuals on screen simultaneously turned their attention towards the side gate, then scarpered in the opposite direction. A few seconds later, a lithe dog fox sauntered up to the bird table, flinching when he found himself faced with a ball of bristling spines. After a brief standoff, the hedgehog continued eating, unperturbed by the fox darting in and out to snatch titbits from his bowl.

After the fox departed, I noticed something had appeared on the lawn. Initially, I dismissed it as a fallen twig – only, the twig moved. Maximising the screen, I could just make out four splayed limbs and a paddle-like tail swishing from side to side as the creature – now identifiable as a smooth newt – clambered through the long grass.

At 3.39am, a wood mouse’s eyes glowed like tiny car headlights from behind a clump of teasels. Hopping out of the shadows, it dodged a perambulating hedgehog and slipped beneath the bird table in search of spilt seeds. Silently, a silver-rosetted Bengal cat leapt down from the fence and crouched low, every muscle tensed. It crept forward, laser-focused on its quarry. Pressing its paws into the ground and wiggling its hindquarters, it sprang towards the bird table, just as the recording cut off. I opened the next clip with trepidation, my finger hovering over the “play” button.

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