Ahead of a family learning workshop about hedgehogs at Wanstead Library this month, Anna MacLaughlin, a nature conservation ranger for Vision RCL, explains how you can help these spiny mammals.
The humble hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of our most beloved mammals, but sadly, we’re seeing worrying declines across the nation.
Evidence shows that over the past 15 years populations have declined by nearly a third in the suburbs and cities and by over half in the countryside, with estimates suggesting there are less than one million hedgehogs left in the UK. Whilst hedgehogs are legally protected from trapping or intentional harm, the legislation does not directly deal with the key drivers of decline.
Hedgehogs face a multitude of threats across both urban and rural landscapes. They are faring poorly in the countryside due to an increasing loss of hedgerows and high levels of pesticide use in the agricultural landscape, reducing the invertebrate prey available for them to feed on. Likewise, our towns and cities present a range of challenges to hedgehogs; impermeable boundaries that restrict their movement, over-management of green spaces and gardens, entanglement in litter, fencing and netting and the increased density of road networks. It’s currently estimated that every year between 167,000 and 335,000 hedgehogs are killed on UK roads.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Despite making up only 6% of our land, urban landscapes are proving increasingly important for wildlife. Recent analyses from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species suggest that declines of hedgehogs in urban areas may be slowing down thanks to the concerted efforts of communities. Sympathetic green space management by local authorities, businesses, schools, cemeteries and individuals mean metropolitan environments are acting as a refuge, boosting hedgehog populations.
Many threats to hedgehogs can be reduced through simple changes. Hedgehogs travel two to three kilometres per night, so need to move freely through a well-connected mosaic of habitats. You can help link areas by creating small ground-level boundary holes in fencing or walls, to allow them to find food, mates and safe areas to nest. Avoid chemicals where possible; pesticides often impact non-target species. Hedgehogs are the natural predator of many invertebrates, particularly slugs and snails, so encouraging them will actually assist with removing critters from your garden. Hedgehogs use different nests for daytime resting, breeding and hibernation, all of which are vulnerable to the human urge of ‘tidying-up’ our outdoor spaces. Let some areas grow wild, with a mixture of bramble patches, long grass, leaf piles and dead wood, and check an area over thoroughly before strimming, mowing or lighting bonfires.
Remember, what’s good for hedgehogs will have the knock-on effect of being beneficial for much of our other wildlife too.