It is hard to think of a cuter mammal that has attracted the nations love quite like the hedgehog. Their curious nature and happy expressions bring back memories of childhood stories like Beatrix Potter’s ‘Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’. Yet each year the media report to us that hedgehog population is now in worryingly low figures which is a hard pill to swallow for all hedgehog lovers out there.
Counting these nocturnal creatures is a difficult task, but many studies have shown that there is a long-term decline. The Guardian recently reported hedgehog numbers have fallen by half in our countryside since the year 2000. Other sources state that there could be less than 1 million hedgehogs remaining. Their decline could be at the same rate as tigers are declining globally – around 5% a year.
These shocking statistics have lead experts to find out exactly why our hedgehogs are in such danger of extinction. The PTES (People’s Trust for Endangered Species) and the BHPS (British Hedgehog Preservation Society) have outlined some common reasons:
Fragmented Habitat – Hedgehogs require large, open surroundings to live. Increasing urbanisation creates impenetrable fences and walls resulting in a habitat too small to sustain a population.
Roadkill – It is estimated around 100,000 hedgehogs annually are killed on our roads. It is thought these big numbers may not be sustainable in the long-term.
Becoming Prey – In the UK, badgers are the main predator of hedgehogs. There is evidence they can successfully co-exist but with wildlife fighting over food and space, badgers are sure to win.
Hedgerow Management – Badly managed hedgerows lead to poor nesting sites for hibernation. Hedgehogs hibernate for 5-6 months of the year.
Reasons for their decline may seem like the inevitable as we try to meet the demands of our growing population. But there is plenty we can do to help our beady eyed friends. Read on to find out how small simple changes in your garden can make a big difference.
Hedgehogs thrive on the edges of our British countryside but are also found in suburban areas. They are faced with impassable fences and walls blocking access to our gardens. Suburban gardens provide hedgehogs with an abundance of food and shelter so access between gardens is imperative.
The PTES and BHPS encourage the removal of barriers where possible so hedgehogs can pass through. Think about creating a hedgehog highway to allow their safe passage. Whole streets can be linked up via these hedgehog highways simply by creating a small gap in the fence:
Burton Fleming in East Yorkshire has declared itself one of few hedgehog friendly villages. Residents created a huge hedgehog highway in their fences, linking up the whole village. A local wildlife rescue released many hedgehogs back into the wild here as they deemed it so safe.
Once you have created your hedgehog highway, you will want to encourage hedgehogs to hang around as they are a gardener’s best friend! Their diet consists of common garden pests including beetles, slugs, millipedes and caterpillars. So with hedgehogs hanging around, you will be giving your garden a chance to thrive. Start by building a log pile, leaf pile or a compost heap all providing safe resting and feeding areas. Garden ponds may seem counter-intuitive as hedgehogs do not look like natural swimmers. In fact, they are fantastic swimmers and ponds provide a year-round supply of water.
Hedgehog homes, or hibernacula, are really fun to build and are an alternative to a hedgehog hideaway. By leaving a hibernaculum in a quiet area, hedgehogs are likely to nest here to either hibernate or rear off-spring. Use untreated wood and you can even insert a small camera to watch over the action.
To survive the winter months, hedgehogs hibernate between October/November and March/April. They are true hibernators meaning they will decrease their body temperature and metabolism to survive periods of low food availability. Energy will come from their summer fat reserves so leaving some food out in summer can prove very important for hedgehogs. Examples of safe food to give to hedgehogs include meat based wet pet food or cat biscuits. Please do not give them any milk as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.
Every Little Helps
With the arrival of Spring comes the end of the hedgehog hibernation season. In the coming months, the hedgehog population will need all the help they can get so we can begin to see a reverse in their declining numbers. Whether you decide to recruit your whole neighbourhood into being a hedgehog highway, or just decide to provide them with some extra food, every little helps. Our cute garden friends send a massive spiky thank you!