There’s something comforting about hedgehogs. I’m not talking about their prickly appearance but rather how they conjure up memories of youth, and Beatrix Potter, and English gardens on summer evenings.
In fact, we Brits like hedgehogs so much that rather a lot of us (42% in fact) would like to see this little critter as Britain’s animal emblem, akin to New Zealand’s kiwi and America’s bald headed eagle (BBC survey 2013). But just how are our beloved beasties faring in the face of 21st century phenomena like climate change and urbanisation?
In short, not too well. Life has not been kind to the poor hedgehog, and population sizes have declined massively in recent years. According to a SURVEY published by the PTES and BHPS* British hedgehog numbers have decreased by at least a quarter in the last decade (equivalent to wiping out the population of London three times over). If current trends continue they could all be gone by 2025.
But what is it that is damaging the little fella so much?
In a word, us. Although scientists believe that a combination of factors are contributing to population declines, the hard truth of the matter is that all of these relate back to human-induced changes to the natural environment. Habitat loss is a major problem; as our traditional rolling green countryside is ploughed up to make way for housing and plots of agricultural land. Lack of space means hedgehogs are placed in direct competition with other familiar countryside residents; top of the list being the controversial badger, who has started to develop a ferocious appetite for our prickly friends. The wily fox also has hedgehog on its lunch menu, frustrated as it is by the lack of food available subsequent to the introduction of the indestructible (and apparently unfathomable) wheelie bin.
And there is nowhere to hide. Hedgehogs are finding that our brand spanking new, fenced off gardens offer no corridors between them, so that they are effectively trapped in a beautifully decked, yet ‘food-less’ hell. Even the tempting mounds of dry timber piled so thoughtfully in the quietest corner of the garden are in fact false friends, and of course hedgehog spikes just cannot compete with the monstrous wheeled machines that terrorise urban and rural landscapes alike.*²
Is the hedgehog going to become a symbol of a forgotten era? Not if we can help it! For you have the power to sway the balance of life or death for this quintessentially British species. Planting hedges, providing rough areas for shelter, or simply making small holes in the garden fence, all help enormously, since this enables hedgehogs to move more easily across the landscape. Check your bonfire, remove garden rubbish, and drive safely and sensibly on the roads (especially at night). If inclined, you can even leave out protein-based foods to supplement a hedgehog’s diet, such as minced meat and crushed up dog biscuits (although one wacky friend swears by a combination of chicken Pedigree dog food and chocolate filled donuts). Even a bowl of water helps.
So what are you going to do this evening, as you sit down in your garden filled with the glow of summer-evening sunlight? Spare a thought for the plight of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, and just how much we would all miss her if she wasn’t around. *³
* The PTES is the People’s Trust of Endangered Species, which helps endangered species globally, whilst the BHPS is the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which works to conserve the hedgehog.
*² You may wonder why I have not touched on climate change in this post. Yes, climate change is thought to be having an effect on hedgehog numbers, particularly as it may affect hibernation patterns and subsequent survival rates. However currently it is thought that hedgehogs can compensate for early or late litter timings, by changing their rate of weight gain (see http://zoogdierenvereniging.nl/sites/default/files/imce/nieuwesite/Zoogdiersoorten/Egel/downloads/Bunnell%20Lutra%2052-1%20digital%20proof.pdf). Thus other external factors (mentioned above) are considered more important in hedgehog declines.
*³ If you want to find out more about what you can do to help hedgehogs join the ‘Hedgehog Street Project’ at http://www.hedgehogstreet.org/
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