by Amy Whetstone, Qualification and Skills Officer at the Society of Biology
The European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, has long been a welcome visitor to our gardens and green spaces in the UK. Our unmistakeable spiny friends were once frequent guests to my back garden, but over the years I’ve noticed a definite decline in sightings. Should I be concerned by the lack of hedgehogs in my area? Is this becoming an increasingly common scenario repeated across many gardens in the UK?
Sadly my concerns are justified. There is now growing evidence that the number of hedgehogs in the UK is declining, by 1.8 to 10.7% each year. The ‘Living with Mammals’ and ‘Mammals on Roads’ surveys carried out by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species each year, along with information from a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology, have estimated that in just the first decade of this century around a quarter of the hedgehog population has been lost!
Could climate change play a part in their decline? A study carried out in the 1970s by Dr Pat Morris, the leading hedgehog expert in the UK, suggested that there could indeed be a link. People’s Trust for Endangered Species repeated the survey in 2012 with around 2000 hedgehog fans logging their sightings. With the survey being repeated in 2013 the hope is to gain a better understanding of how climate change may be affecting hedgehogs and when they are emerging from hibernation.
Further research into the decline has demonstrated that there are numerous potential factors at play; however the exact reasons they are declining remains unclear. Pesticides reduce the amount of prey available to foraging hedgehogs, along with habitat loss due to the removal of hedgerows and permanent grassland. The move towards people having tidy, paved over gardens has also contributed to their demise and is perhaps not helped by news articles informing us to tidy our gardens to avoid attracting the increasingly unpopular urban fox!
But what is being done to help the hedgehog?
People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society are running a campaign called Hedgehog Street to make Britain’s gardens more hedgehog friendly. The aim is to have a whole street doing something positive for hedgehogs and linking up their green spaces. Hedgehogs need our gardens and backyards to be reconnected and improved, by building log piles, leaving rough areas or just by making a small hole in your wall or fence so they can move freely in and out of your garden.
No matter the cause, it is now evident that the animal that has captured the imaginations and affections of many of us in the UK is on the decline. There is no doubt that we have an important role to play in providing optimal habitat, so that once again hedgehogs will become a common sight in our gardens.