The Mammal Society has recently launched its annual Hedgehog Watch Project to try to get a clearer picture of hedgehog numbers across Britain.
This much loved and oft seen mammal – think back to Mrs Tiggywinkle stories as a child – has seen a dramatic decline over the last few decades. Drawing its name from its natural habitat, these furry little creatures used to be a common and much welcome sight in the UK, going about its business snuffling for insects, worms, snails and slugs.
However the population has dropped significantly. In the 1950s there were an estimated 30 million in Britain, but today there are fewer than one million, with a third of the decline believed to have been in the last decade.
Indeed a survey in BBC Gardener’s World magazine (other publications are available) conducted earlier this year unearthed that over half of the people surveyed had not seen a hedgehog at all in 2016, up from 48% in 2015. And a whisker over one tenth (12%) of those surveyed confirmed that they saw a hedgehog on a regular basis.
The reason for the decline is not entirely clear but contributing factors are thought to be the loss of their habitat in our towns and countryside – where farming has intensified – as well as an increase in the number of road deaths. The fragmentation of their habitat is also problematic as hedgehogs can roam up to a mile every night to look for food and mates.
However there is some good news – the survey did find that almost two-thirds of the people surveyed had done something to protect hedgehogs in the last year, with over a third (36%) avoiding the use of slug pellets, over a third again (34%) leaving the twigs and leaves so the hedgehog can use them for shelter, and more than 20% checking for hedgehogs before strimming or lighting bonfires.
Gardens cover an estimated 10m acres of the UK and Lucy Hall, editor of BBC Gardeners’ World said: “Our message to all garden owners is to see your outdoor space as a small-scale nature reserve – part of a network of gardens that link to make a great big, valuable habitat. Seen like this, every small step you can make to help wildlife really does make a big difference when we all act together.”
Keep an eye out for prickly little visitors in your garden and report any sightings to www.mammal.org.uk