The Case of the Disappearing Hedgehog

Emily Wilson               March 2018
As the Government launches their new 25 Year Environment Plan and focus begins to be on ‘A Green Future’ I can’t help but wonder, how can we ensure a future for the last of the hedgehogs?  This is where I pull on my deerstalker hat, get out my magnifying glass and begin my investigation in hedgehog decline, Sherlock Holmes style.

Hedgehogs are special creatures: I love their gentle nature and amusing behaviour, particularly when they curl into a ball to protect themselves.  There is still so much to learn about these night time visitors and hearing how people are seeing less and less piqued my natural curiosity and my campaigning passion. That’s why I joined the Hedgehog Street team, so I could use my master’s degree in conservation biology and several years of working in the conservation and animal welfare sector, to investigate hedgehog decline and finally solve the mystery of how to help them.

Hedgehogs are notoriously difficult to study and no one knows exactly how many there are. But what we do know, is that they are in severe decline. The sad state of our nation’s hedgehogs was revealed by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) own mammal surveys and supported by the findings of other wildlife organisations in the most recent State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report.  It is estimated that over a third of hedgehogs have been lost in the UK, in the past decade alone.

In response to this worrying decline, PTES and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) launched the Hedgehog Street campaign, which seeks to conserve this iconic species and empower the British public to help hedgehogs in their own back gardens. By putting out some food, or linking up your gardens with ‘hedgehog highways’ you can help hedgehogs.  PTES and BHPS are also currently commissioning various research projects into the reasons for their decline and measures that could be taken to reverse the effects. 

“So why are hedgehogs disappearing?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s elementary my dear Watson. Hedgehogs are affected by us and the way we have changed the environment they live.  Causes vary from increased human population and development, to climate change and reduced prey availability, and they are different in town and countryside.

Factors affecting hedgehogs in the countryside:

Widespread use of pesticides means less bugs for hedgehogs to eat
Larger fields make it difficult for hedgehogs to travel around
Removal of hedgerows means less nesting sites for hedgehogs
Increasing numbers of badgers – the main natural predator – may have
       an effect where habitat is already challenging. However hedgehogs are
       declining where badgers are not present so they are not the whole
       problem.

With approximately 70% of land in the UK managed by farmers, BHPS and PTES are planning to engage with the farming community to help protect this iconic creature.

Farmers play a vital role in producing food, but they’re also well placed to help protect, maintain and enhance our countryside.  The Government recently reiterated plans to reconfigure Agricultural Policy to reward  post-Brexit landowners for delivering environmental benefits. Many farmers already have a sustainable approach to agriculture, and we think there’s a great opportunity to work more widely with them to stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs.

Factors affected hedgehogs in urban areas:

Garden fencing and walls stop hedgehogs being able to travel very far
More people are paving or decking their gardens which directly reduces
       their foraging areas.  needs about 90-240 hectares of continuous habitat,
       for a sustainable population, which means access to about 5,000 average
       sized connected gardens
Busy roads cause hedgehog deaths
New developments usually lack any hedgehog friendly features
Hibernation habitat is being lost to over-management or development
A very "tidy" gardens aren’t good for ‘hogs – they need log piles and
       areas of wild grass to feed and nest in
Use of pesticides and slug pellets can poison animals and kills the insects
       that ‘hogs eat

Hedgehog Street is about joining up the dots. It’s about empowering people with an understanding of hedgehogs, why they are declining, and how easy it is to help them.  With their unique, charismatic appearance, hedgehogs regularly make it to ‘Britain’s favourite mammal’ in polls and evoke such an affectionate response from the public that there’s every reason to be genuinely hopeful that we can reverse this decline. After all, we can’t risk losing Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, she’s part of our cultural heritage!

The good news is that our latest assessment of hedgehog populations suggests that while numbers contine to drop in the countryside, in urban habitats there are the fisrt signs of a halt to decline and even some increase in numbers.

Hedgehogs love gardens and we know what features they need to survive and thrive in suburbia. Hedgehog Street is all about simple things everyone can do to help save our favourite wild animal. If you want to join us in the fight to save this national treasure sign up the Hedgehog Street today at www.hedgehogstreet.org

By Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street



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