In a Year, What Has Changed For Hedgehogs?
In July 2017, I decided to write an article on the decline of hedgehogs presence in the UK after the RSPB annual survey found low numbers of hedgehogs in gardens. Over a year later, hedgehogs are still making headlines, and for all the wrong reasons.
Last month, at least 3 major online newspapers covered the fall in hedgehog numbers, drawing attention to an increasingly worsening situation. Aesthetics aside, hedgehogs are highly beneficial, they provide a solution for pest control of invasive garden insects and play a key role in the food chain as avid insectivores. Although listed as least concern on the IUCN’s red list, hedgehog numbers have decreased dramatically in recent years. This has been particularly distressing, as despite shy, hedgehogs were once a delightful occurrence, making them a garden favourite to many.
Since my article last year, hedgehogs are still facing challenges, a recent study published by Scientific Reports – the first national survey of the mammal’s population in England and Wales – revealed their occupancy at 22% nationally, a low statistic connected to badger increases. The study went on to highlight the effects of not only rising badger numbers but also intensive agriculture, the continued and accelerated use of which has lead to their habitat loss – for example the removal of hedgerows for field expansion. This prevents biological corridors and thus movement, limiting reachable food supply and reducing distribution. Grassland, another favourite habitat of hedgehogs, has also decreased.
According to Hedgehog Street, a campaign by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and British Hedgehog Preservation Society, ‘badgers are the principal natural predator of hedgehogs in the UK’ due to badgers’ ability to ‘overcome spiny defences’ presumably their sharp spines, actually hollow hairs that are stiff from keratin. Recent efforts to protect badgers could be a reason for this new dynamic.
Hedgehogs face a tough future, especially when not a lot is known about how they utilise their surrounding environment. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society lists one of it’s aims as ‘to fund research into the behavioural habits of hedgehogs’ in order to understand ‘the best methods of assisting their survival’. With more research, a greater knowledge of hedgehogs can be developed to conserve them. Identifying how many hedgehogs are present and where seems to be of particular importance to assess abundance.
Donating to charities that fund studies into knowledge on garden hedgehogs is a step in the right direction. There ways to help wild populations too; park managers can take courses on managing green spaces to introduce hedgehogs. Hedgehog Street has also compiled a guide to assistance in a suburban setting. For example, garden features such as log piles are perfect places for hedgehogs to breed and feed as well as compost heaps and leaf piles. You can find out more on their website, it’s a fantastic read and good for anyone who wants to make a real difference.
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