Education is essential if our hedgehogs are going to make it through the next few decades.
Britain has lost half its rural population of hedgehogs while one third have disappeared from urban areas since the year 2000, according to the latest estimates from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).
“Not long ago the Erinaceus Europaeus was a common sight in our neighbourhoods, but today we’re seeing much less of this intelligent and endearing creature," the PTES states.
"The reasons why we’re quietly losing our hedgehog population are entirely man-made. The shocking statistics of their decline puts them on a par with the plummeting worldwide tiger population.”
The reasons for hedgehog decline are complex and research is underway to identify why this is the case. Badger predation and food source competition, climate change and human activities may all have an effect. The PTES regularly commissions research that helps understand why hedgehogs are in such trouble, and how we can best help them.
Education is essential if our hedgehogs are going to make it through the next few decades, because increasing urbanisation means we have less contact with nature and less understanding of our wildlife.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is working to create awareness through their short film ‘Hedgehog Street’ an activity essential stop the disappearance of our native hedgehogs.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for hedgehog decline is the reduction of hedgehog-friendly environments which are increasingly under threat from the concrete-slide of our communities.
It seems easy to lay this blame this on the government and building companies, and in part the responsibility does lay at their feet, but we are responsible individually too. Our gardens could provide safe havens, but faced with fences and designer landscaping hedgehogs are losing their foothold in our communities.
Hedgehogs roam over 2kms a night, but our fences are a considerable barrier to their movements. This environmental fragmentation prevents hedgehogs gathering enough food, finding suitable nesting areas, and meeting a mate.
Paving, decking, and hard-landscaping is endemic in the modern garden, but it leaves little to no space for hedgehog needs. Longer grass, rough areas, and native plants that attract insects and invertebrates are essential. Tidy gardens sterilised by landscaping, leaf blowers, strimmers and sprinkled with slug pellets are deserts for native wildlife.
Hedgehogs have been around in one form or another since the dinosaurs, but our modern habits are testing their ability to survive. Garden tools cause horrific injuries, uncovered drains are one way pitfalls, and they become hopelessly entangled in netting.
Bonfires and ponds pose problems too. A bonfire heap is perfect hedgehog accommodation, but leads to death when the pile is lit. Ponds with slippery sides that offer no means of escape exhausts unfortunate hedgehogs that eventually drown.
We can help these endearing spiky creatures more than we realise. An area of garden left wild without slug pellets or pesticide use will support a hedgehog’s search for food.
Hogs predominately eat insects, beetles, caterpillars, snails and slugs, effectively clearing a garden of pests, and whilst hogs don’t eat slug pellets, they do eat dead slugs and ingest the poison.
An easily purchased hedgehog house offers safe accommodation for hogs that need dry, warm places to raise young and hibernate throughout the winter.
Supplemental feeding can help make up the shortfall of natural prey, but well-meaning folk often cause serious problems offering bread and milk.
Hogs are lactose intolerant, so the resulting diarrhoea can cause dehydration and death. Bread has no useful nutrients for a small mammal, and neither do mealworms, peanuts and household scraps. Instead offer dry or wet cat food and a shallow, heavy bowl of fresh water.
But all this effort is no use without access. We can boost the hog population by creating doors in our fence lines. This opens up a road network that hedgehogs can travel around. A 15cm x 15cm gap will allow hogs access to your insects, snails and water sources.
This non-threatening mammal is often the first point of contact people have with our native wildlife. From Shakespeare’s Furze-pigs to Enid Blyton’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Sega’s Sonic, hedgehogs are steeped in our culture.
It’s easy to support these endearing creatures. It doesn’t take much to start reversing their fortunes – a simple hole in the fence line can make a big difference.
If we ignore the plummeting decline of our much loved native hedgehog we won’t be seeing them in the near future. A garden without the charming hedgehog is indeed an empty one that points to a serious underlying problem with our environmental health.
Clive Harris is a garden writer and environmentalist. You can find his blog at https://diygarden.co.uk