In July 2017, I decided to write an article on the decline of hedgehogs presence in the UK. After the RSPB’s annual survey found low numbers of hedgehogs in gardens, I went on to research population decline and the contributing factors. Over a year later, hedgehogs are still making headlines and for all the wrong reasons.
Last month, concerns over hedgehog numbers was covered by at least 3 major online newspapers, questioning whether these cute creatures are in an even worse situation. These once common mammals supply a number of benefits including pest control of invasive garden insects and playing a key role in food chains as most are insectivores, eating invertebrates. 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 last year it seems 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, both a low statistic and 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 habitat loss for hedgehogs. One example being 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. As badgers have increased in number, hedgehogs have decreased and more effort into protecting badgers could be a reason for this rise.
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 and research on identifying how many hedgehogs are present and where seems to be of particular importance to assess abundance. Donating to charities that fund studies is a step in the right direction and there are other ways to help wild populations too; park managers can find and take courses on managing some green spaces to suit hedgehogs, directing anyone to these could definitely be helpful. 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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