Hedgehog Awareness Week – what can you do?

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is running Hedgehog Awareness Week from 6th-12th May 2018. It is a week designed to raise awareness of the challenges faced by hedgehogs in the UK, and offer everyone ways in which they can help.

Hedgehog numbers have declined 50% since the beginning of the century, according to various news sources including the BBC. It’s a statistic that is deeply concerning for the UK hedgehog population, as well as for wider ecosystems. Hedgehogs are considered an indicator species; they have varied habitats and can thrive almost anywhere, so a rapid decline in their numbers raises concerns for the natural world as a whole. It’s also bad news for us because hedgehogs feed on slugs and insects, making them excellent natural pest controllers.

In the UK, hedgehogs are as much a part of our culture as they are of our natural landscape. Many of us grew up with Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, or came across poems like The Mower by Philip Larkin, encouraging us to respect the natural world around us. It would be a great shame to lose these prickly additions to our gardens, hedgerows and countryside.

What is the distribution of hedgehogs throughout the UK?

Hedgehogs are found throughout most parts of the UK, with more thought to be in the Eastern counties. In fact, the only places where you won’t find hedgehogs are very wet areas, or extensive pine forests. They are found in both rural and inner city locations, though populations in rural areas are especially threatened.

What is a hedgehog’s habitat?

Almost anywhere. As their name suggests, hedgehogs often make their homes in hedgerows as these give them protection from predators, plenty of insects and invertebrates to eat, and provide ideal nesting sites. Whilst they will often be found in farmers’ fields, they are also just as at home in gardens and there are urban hedgehog populations throughout cities and suburban areas. The conditions found in gardens provide many of the same benefits as hedgerows – good food sources, protection and nesting sites – which is why it is so important to make our gardens more hedgehog friendly as populations decline.

What threats do hedgehogs face in the wild?

Hedgehogs face a number of challenges in the wild, which are all contributing factors to their decline. Threats include:

  • Use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. This reduces hedgehogs’ food sources.
  • Flailing. This is now one of the most common methods of managing hedgerows, leaving them with gaps and making them unsuitable for nesting.
  • Fencing and walls. Solid boundaries make it harder for hedgehogs to move between gardens and other grassy areas.
  • Reduction of scrubby areas. These offer the perfect habitat for hibernation, but are often disposed of or thinned down.
  • Roads. Hedgehogs living in urban areas are in danger of being run over.

Many of the threats hedgehogs face are posed by humans. Whilst some of this is the inevitable outcome of sharing our space with animals (traffic, for example), there is also plenty that can be done.

What can we do to help?

First and foremost, follow Hedgehog Awareness Week! You can follow the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on Facebook and join their event for Hedgehog Awareness week, or keep up with their activity on Twitter. Take a look at their website as well – it’s full of resources and is a great place to start.

If you want to play an active part in Hedgehog Awareness Week, you can:

  1. Promote the initiative in your local area. Write to your council to ask them to use strimmer stickers, which remind operatives to check for hedgehogs first. Set up an interview in your local newspaper or on your local radio station. Hand out leaflets to people in your area, telling them how to help hedgehogs. Find all the resources you need on the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s blog.
  2. Donate to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to support their work. Text HHOG18 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 – you can also change the amount to £1, £2, £3, £4 or £10. You can visit their JustGiving page as well.
  3. Take part in an event. The Wildlife Trusts are running events throughout the country, from educational sessions to hedgehog-themed arts and crafts. See their website to find out what is going on near you.

These are just some of the things you can do to help hedgehogs in your day-to-day life:

  • Always check the area carefully before strimming or mowing your lawn, as hedgehogs could be sheltering in longer grass and borders.
  • Give hedgehogs access to your garden. You don’t need to compromise your security – a gap of 13cm x 13cm in a fence or a wall will be enough to let hedgehogs in and out, but it will be too small to cause you any worries about your pets. For more information, see this guide from Hedgehog Street.
  • If you have a bonfire, check the wood thoroughly before lighting it. If you are burning rubbish, move it to a different site before burning to make sure no hedgehogs are hiding inside.
  • Try not to leave your garden too tidyHedgehogs love woodpiles, leaves and compost heaps for sheltering and finding food.
  • Build a pond. This is a good way to provide a water supply for hedgehogs, and they are very good swimmers, so you won’t need to worry about accidents. The sides of the pond should have a gentle slope to make sure they have an easy exit.
  • Make (or buy!) a hedgehog home. Hedgehogs will often prefer natural nesting and hibernation sites, but if these are few and far between in your area, they might choose to use a manmade structure. The RSPB have a good guide to building one, as well as a link to their shop if you would prefer to buy one.

There is plenty we can do to help, and the good news is, most of it is really simple. Hedgehog Awareness Week has something for everyone, offering different ideas that are relevant to all. By making these simple changes, we can help improve the outlook for hedgehogs.

There is hope for the hedgehog’s story. There are indications that hedgehog populations may be recovering in urban areas, though the data is not completely clear. It might not be much, but it is a starting point. By playing our part and taking positive steps, however small, towards helping wild hedgehogs, we can all make a difference and encourage hedgehog populations to grow.

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Writer, traveller and all-round animal lover.

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