The world isn’t fair. Hot off the heels of news that cockroaches were hardy enough to survive the destruction of a supercontinent, it’s been unveiled that Britain’s hedgehogs – those entirely innocent spikey bundles of utter, squee-inducing joy – are still in trouble. According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), rural hedgehog numbers have fallen by at least 50 percent since the turn of the century.
A new PTES report, entitled The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 – appropriately co-authored by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – goes into more detail. It notes that numbers are difficult to come by, as no official scientific census exists in this sense. However, thanks to the work of a plethora of volunteers working on a variety of surveys, trends in population numbers can be ascertained.
Sadly, the trend for rural hedgehogs has definitely been downward for some time.
One rather grim way of estimating hedgehog populations is by using the number of hedgehog road casualties. The report notes that between 2002 and 2017, rural hedgehog traffic-based deaths fell by half.
Land uses changes, including the removal of nesting sites like hedgerows, has contributed to their decline. A reduction in prey availability, as well as the intensification of agriculture, are also noted as exacerbating factors. Incidentally, the presence of badgers, a predator of theirs, doesn't seem to make a difference.
More recent population patterns are, however, far more uncertain at present.
“The trend, which evens out year-to-year differences, has been level over the last few years, but it’s still possible that the population has increased over this period or continued to fall,” the reports notes. “To be more confident, more data are essential.”
Either way, the authors do conclude that “hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside.”
There is a cautious note of hope, though. Despite being far more likely to be found in greater numbers in rural areas, hedgehogs are still commonplace in towns and cities. Although “fewer places record them today than did fifteen years ago,” it appears that in areas where they are known to frequent, urban hedgehog numbers are gradually increasing.
Overall, though, the picture isn’t looking that rosy. Another citizen science survey by 2,600 people for BBC Gardener’s World Magazine found that, in 2015, 48 percent of respondents didn’t see a hedgehog for that entire year. This went up to 51 percent in 2016.
“British gardens are becoming poorer homes for wildlife with increased paving, decking, and reduced plant life,” the report adds. “And with more roads and housing developments being built, we’re seeing a huge loss of connectivity between green spaces, leaving hedgehogs isolated.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a member of the British Isles that dislikes hedgehogs. They’re harmless, adorable, eat pretty much anything they can find, and even help gardeners out by cutting down on the number of crop- and plant-eating pests in the area.
So, what can we do to help them out? Some plans are a little more ambitious, but still practical – increasing green spaces in urban areas, for example. Others are far easier: making your garden more hedgehog friendly by leaving out tiny houses for them, or just making a part of it concealed by shrubberies, would work.
If you’re curious, you can actually see the mapped distribution of live (and dead) hedgehogs around the UK right now, based on their last sighting by yet more volunteers. Apart from being a rather lovely project that should reveal yet more long-term population – and migration trends – over time, it’s also a little bemusing. Who, pray tell, has seen a live hedgehog north of Greenland?