The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the ninth of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Nicola Steele discusses the steps needed to save one of our most endangered creatures, the hedgehog
It’s ironic that one of the UK’s favourite wild animals is also one of the most endangered – as the plight of the hedgehog is a direct result of, you guessed it, us!
As hedgerows have been ripped out in the countryside to make way for industrial farming, and greenery has been ripped out in the cities to make way for patios and cars, these charismatic little creatures have struggled to find a place to call home amongst us. Hedgehogs are classified as vulnerable to extinction on the Red List of British Mammals. Numbers have been dropping for many years now, and even in the past decade, we have lost over a half of rural hedgehogs and a third from towns and cities. This isn’t sustainable and means we could lose hedgehogs for good in the UK.
The decline in towns and cities seems to be slowing, but the situation in the countryside is a real concern. In Wanstead, there are still a few hedgehogs around, but the only known remaining stronghold is in the area around the City of London Cemetery. They are dying here because of factors like traffic, loss of habitat and use of garden pesticides.
One of the reasons hedgehogs have struggled with the modern way we manage our land is that they roam widely during the night in search of food – often by as much as two to four kilometres. This means they need access to space that’s well connected and easy to move around. Roads, fences and walls all create a direct barrier that blocks their ability to forage.
Hedgehogs are fascinating animals. If threatened with danger, they raise their 3,000 to 5,000 spines and curl up into a tight ball. Between November and March, when food is in short supply, hedgehogs hibernate in a nest in a hedgerow, compost heap, or under a thick layer of leaves or logs. Their body temperature drops and breathing almost stops. Hedgehogs are awake again and ready to breed in April. The female makes a nest of leaves and grass and has three to five babies. At first, the young are blind and pink, but soon sprout soft white spines. By four weeks old, they’re ready to go foraging with their mother, and in another 10 days, the offspring go their separate ways. If you’re interested in finding out more, Hedgehog Street is a great organisation trying to save our spikey friends that has lots of information on their website.
How to help
- To help rural hedgehogs, you could consider avoiding industrially produced food and opt for organic, if feasible.
- Closer to home, don’t use slug pellets or pesticides in the garden – hedgehogs eat creepy crawlies so you’re indirectly poisoning them.
- Make your garden attractive to hedgehogs and the food they eat. Leave a wild corner, make a mini wildlife meadow or have a wildlife pond (with an escape ramp).
- Have habitats in your garden suitable for hedgehogs to hibernate in.
- Make hedgehog highways with your neighbours so that hedgehogs can move between gardens to find food at night. Create gaps in your boundaries of 13cm by 13cm (which is too small for nearly all pets to get through), or use hedgehog-friendly gravel boards with ready-made holes. Dig a channel under a wall, fence or gate, or cut a hole at the bottom of the structure.
- If you are lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your garden or neighbourhood, provide supplementary food, ideally dry or wet cat food (not fish).
For more information on helping hedgehogs, visit hedgehogstreet.org
For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/the10