Hedgehogs in serious decline.
Their numbers have been freefalling for some time and the latest reports paint a very depressing picture for our iconic and only native spiny mammal.
They have recolonised after ice-ages, been eaten by man, been called vermin and killed in their thousands and destroyed on game estates in living memory. Yet our native hedgehog has survived for millions of years. Now modern man has reduced them to clinging on for survival in less than 50 years.
The reasons are many from changes in countryside farming practices to feed an ever growing human population, changes in land usage - for example expanding urbanisation, to changes in gardens with much tidier gardens (often enclosed so nothing can get in or out) with ornamental planting which has little wildlife benefit and simple things like leaf litter being removed and binned, (a simple leaf pile offers refuge and an insect larder for wildlife). (See our Hedgehogs, Habitat & Pressures page for more information on the natural history of hedgehogs and pressures they face).
Hedgehogs are not the only native wildlife in trouble, but they are seen as an indicator species their decline reflecting on a wider issue. Hedgehogs are primarily insectivores their main food sources being beetles, worms and caterpillars and only a small percentage slugs. Although it makes me feel old I can remember only 25 years ago driving along in the summer and using my wipers on the car constantly to try to wash off splatted insects. I certainly don't have this problem now.
In 2012 alone we rescued over 200 hedgehogs and hoglets many suffering from starvation and illness due to a very wet year, reduced preferable food sources and an explosion of slugs which carry a parasite that causes lungworm and eventually pneumonia in hedgehogs. We are grateful to all that bring injured, ill and orphaned hedgehogs into us but while the rescue and rehabilitation of these wonderful creatures is important it isn't the long term solution to saving this iconic little mammal.
The sad fact is that roughly half the hoglets born in a litter will probably die before their second winter and of those that do make it they on average only live for two or three years. They can live much longer than this but it seems that the world is not on their side.
Beyond the rescuing we also spend a lot of time going into schools delivering education and visiting groups giving talks about the work we do and what everyone can do to help the hedgehog have a brighter future. We also give advice on our many roadshows and events we attend each year and as part of this collect information about where hedgehogs have been seen to allow us to build up a picture of the hedgehog population in the area we cover as a rescue unit.
Now we are taking this further.
Firstly through publicity we want as many hedgehog sighting records as possible. If you see a hedgehog either in your garden, while out and about or even a dead one on the side of the road we would like you to let us know. This will allow us to build up a picture of hedgehog poulations helping to understand the population status, pin pointing good areas and poor areas.This will help when identifying release sites and will allow research into why hedgehogs are absent from areas.
Secondly we are putting monitoring devices in at a number of locations covering various habitats from urban to rural to allow us to collect data on hedgehogs in these areas, if we find particularly active spots then the plan is to carry out further research on the activities and fortunes of the hedgehogs through the year. This will include weight and sex of individual hedgehogs, their area covered, mortality and any litters and the eventual outcomes.
Thirdly, we want everyone to change the way they look at their gardens. It is not easy to make sweeping changes to the wider landscape however everyone who ownes a garden is a landowner and can do something to help. Most cases that come into us are from suburban and urban areas and the hedgehog certainly adapted to the urban environment, so our gardens are an important habitat for them. Part of our field monitoring research will be into differences in hedgehog numbers in urban and rural habitats as most encounters will be from the most people populated areas i.e. urban and suburban..
Gardening programs a few years ago promoted thinking of your garden as an extension to your living room. Slab it, deck it, gravel it, build a futuristic cube to sit in. Really we should be thinking of our gardens as our own privately owned piece of countryside. Look at any ariel view of what is considered as suburban or urban and you will see an awful lot of green, all of those gardens added up amount to a lot of potential habitat.
Create some habitat
To improve this habitat doesn't have to cost a penny, simple but effective things that can be done for free including:
- Ensuring that there is a way in and out of your garden to other gardens. Hedgehogs only need a 4 inch gap to be able to get into your garden. Hedgehogs will typically travel through twenty or so
gardens in a night foraging for food, so it is very important to link up gardens.
- Have a leaf litter pile at the top of the garden. This provides opportunities for nesting as well as proving food from all of the insects that will make this their home.
- Create a log pile. This again provides habitat for insects and so provides food for other wildlife including hedgehogs.
- Leave an area to 'go wild'. Leaving even just the top foot or so of the garden to grow over will provide all sorts of habitat for wildlife.
If you can afford to go that little step further then you can improve things further by spending as little (or as much as you like to help wildlife such as hedgehogs.
- When buying plants look out for the sections in the garden centre or nursery that have insect attracting plants.
- Try to plant native plants rather than exotics, a good nursery will give great advice.
- Plant some native shrubs and berry bearing shrubs in the garden. If you can, replace a fence with a hedge, a wooden fence may need less maintenance (until it rots of course), but a hedge full of the comings and goings of birds is a delight and will last. Once established you can be sure when you’re sleeping that a hedgehog will be snuffling it's way along under it.
- Have a pond, it doesn't need to be grand even a small pond will attract all sorts of wildlife, just make sure that it has at least one shallow sloping edge so anything that gets in can get out again. One very sad case here last year involved a hog that came in after being stuck in a pond for hours. She was hyperthermic and exhausted, she later gave birth to six still born hoglets.
Thre are other simple things that can help including:
- Keeping areas litter free, hedgehogs get stuck in cans and plastic bags etc, they are inquisitive creatures.
- Not using pesticides in the garden.
- Keeping any netting off the ground by at least 9" as hedgehogs get caught in netting.
- Keeping chemicals off the ground in areas such as sheds.
- Putting in a hedgehog home.
- Leaving some food and water out for them.
Please don't let the hedgehog go the way of much other wildlife, animals and birds that were once common and now are a rare sighting. The most often comment we hear from people at talks and events is; 'its years since I have seen a hedgehog'. Well they are still out there but they are fighting a losing battle at the moment and in my opinion it isn't going to be government or large organisation initiatives that make the difference it is the 'little people', the hundreds of thousands of garden 'land owners' that by making small changes can make a difference.
Working as a Ranger outside of co-running the rescue unit, I see a lot of disassociation from the natural world. Children that have never been to a country park, kids that think you can catch cancer from touching plants, teachers that have asked for gloves for children on a mini beast hunt in case their hands get dirty. We seem to want to block off our gardens and have an organised regimented sterile area and we reach for the hand santiser anytime we touch anything. That needs to change.
We, as do many other rescue centres, fight every day to rescue and treat more and more hedgehogs from an ever declining population, that isn't the future. The future has to be changing their fortunes out in the wild to build stronger populations in a healthier environment.
If you live in the area we cover which is North Worcestershire and parts of South Birmingham including Bromsgrove, Redditch, Droitwich, Kidderminster, North side of Worcester, Stourport, Northfield, Longbridge etc and surrounding areas then:
Help us spread the word
If you are a group or school and would like us to come along and give a talk or get involved in a project then please contact us at [email protected]
Help us monitor hedgehog populations
If you want to get involved and record your hedgehog sightings then please email us at [email protected] with the subject line as Hedgehog Sighting and include:
- Your name.
- Your postcode and street name (if the hedgehog was in your garden). Please also include number of hedgehogs seen.
- The road name and area if you saw it when you were out and about (even if it is a dead hedgehog on the road).
- The time.
- The date.
- If it is a regular visitor then please let
us know this.
If a whole road gets together to link gardens and provide habitat for wildlife including our native hedgehog then we will try to come out free of charge to give a talk.
If you live outside of our area then please have a look at the Hedgehog Preservation Society website who run national projects such as Hedgehog Street. More information on national research can be found on the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species website and the Mammal Society.
Some short audios from Willows.
More audios from Willows here
Planning your garden, think hedges not fences.
Large panel fences create inpenetrable barriers for ground dwelling wildlife and even on a basic level they aren't even visually pleasing. A hedge however offers safety, food and a home for many species not to metion the feel good factor the greenery and bird song gives to us
Working in the garden, look out for hedgehogs first.
It is starting to feel like spring and hedgehogs will soon be waking from hibernation. With spring comes the chance to get back into the garden but some garden activities can spell disaster for a hedgehog.
Food for Hedgehogs.
It is supposedly spring however a step outside will make you think more of winter. Minus temperatures and snow on the ground. Hedgehogs will be waking from hibernation after a very wet year last year & a cold winter. They will be on the last of their fat reserves and need to find food quickly to be able to survive. In this short audio I look at making a hedgehog feeding station and at what types of food you can leave out for our spiky garden visitors.
Hedgehog Signs & Talking Rubbish
While out and about I find signs of hedgehog activity, have a look at where I am pretty sure the hedgehog has made its nest and also end up talking rubbish, the discarded packaging type of rubbish!
Hedgehog Awareness Week Roundup May 2013
An audio update for Hedgehog Awareness week looking back at the weeks events we attended. News of an upcoming competition for a local scool to win a package of wildlife goodies including a Hedgehog home, hedgehog food, £100 of wildlife friendly planting, bird feeders & food, a bat box and other goodies. Finally, updates on a couple of recent admissions.
For more information on hedgehogs and the issues they face please visit our Hedgehogs, Habitat & Pressures page
If you want to make a donation to help us continue the work we do with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of hedgehogs or to help with the research we are doing then please see the helping us area of the website.