A new survey has added to fears that hedgehogs in the UK are seriously declining, with presence of hedgehogs detected in only 39% of the rural and urban sites studied. Using a non-invasive survey method, 111 sites across the UK were surveyed for the presence of one of our best loved insectivores and the findings are published in Mammal Review.
Traditional survey methods for hedgehogs have involved spotlight surveys which are both labour intensive and not particularly effective. Mammalogists at Nottingham Trent University devised footprint tunnels as an alternative method for identifying the presence of hedgehogs. Pilot studies carried out over a two year period, with the help of The Mammal Society, showed the tunnels to be statistically more effective at detecting hedgehogs in an area than spotlighting.
The findings of the current study, also carried out with the University of Reading, showed that the tunnels have a 95% accuracy rate in detecting hedgehogs in an area using just their distinctive footprints. The method involves mammals walking over ink pads to reach bait (tinned sausages) inside the tunnels, leaving their inky paw prints on special paper as they do so. The footprints on the paper can then be analysed and the presence of any visiting hedgehogs determined. The footprint tunnels will now be used in a nationwide survey to further understand the status of hedgehogs and assist with conservation efforts.
The current study also supported previous findings that hedgehogs are more prevalent in areas where badgers are absent. However, the reasons for this are unclear at present.
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DR PHOEBE CARTER
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