Urban Hedgehogs 'Recovering'
When British hedgehogs hit the news, it is typically, sadly, due to their declining populations. So it is with some optimism that we read today's news that hedgehog numbers in urban areas are now stable and may even be recovering. However, the announcement is still tinged with some sadness as we have also learnt that the numbers of hedgehogs in more rural areas continue to decline, particularly in eastern England.
Where has today's news come from?
The State of Britain's Hedgehogs Report 2021 is thanks to the hard work and research efforts of Hedgehog Street - a partnership between the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and a follow up to their first survey completed in 2011. Together, they wanted to research how things have changed ten years on. You can read the full report here where you can download a copy.
So how many hedgehogs are there in Britain now?
As both the BHPS and the PTES obviously admit, counting hedgehogs is not easy! They do it by estimating the number per hectare or kilometre square and then multiplying this density by total area. They combine different studies to give a wider more inclusive final estimate and use anecdotal evidence for a decline, including reports from gamekeepers. Thankfully, many of us contribute to citizen science reports like the BTO Garden Birdwatch survey and the PTES Living with Mammals Survey to record hedgehogs in our own gardens which goes to show just how important it is to take part in these annual surveys.
In our towns and cities, estimates range from 7.4 to 176 hedgehogs per kilometre square. Giving a total number of 266,000 hedgehogs in urban areas if we're taking the higher end of the estimate. In rural areas and the countryside, three separate surveys sadly show a loss of hedgehogs of between a third and three quarters in the last two decades. As the report admits, it is difficult to compare the two due to the survey design and the type of data collected. However they have noted, that the biggest declines appear to have been in the East Midlands and East of England.
Are hedgehogs endangered?
Just over ten years ago, British hedgehogs were added to the Red List and officially classed as 'vulnerable to extinction'. At the time, it had been noted that we had seen a 46% decline in hedgehog numbers over the previous 13 years due to habitat loss and road casualties. The total population of hedgehogs was thought to be around half a million. The Red List is produced by the Mammal Society and their Chair, Fiona Mathews, who led the report said at the time: "The new Red List provides a very clear basis for prioritising funding and conservation efforts for the future. Twenty species — those classed as Threatened, Near Threatened, and Data Deficient — all need urgent attention. While we bemoan the demise of wildlife in other parts of the world, here in Britain we are managing to send even rodents towards extinction. Things have to change rapidly if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the wildlife we take for granted.”
At the time the BHPS called for the government to "...in the light of this new internationally recognised classification, to increase the protection offered to the hedgehog under the Wildlife and Countryside Act by moving it to schedule 5, allowing the level of protection appropriate for such a keystone species in decline." Their petition received more than 108,000 signatures but sadly the government responded, saying, "There are currently no plans to give hedgehogs further legal protection." You can listen to their Chief Executive, Fay Vass, on our Wildlife Community podcast, talking about this very same idea.
Why are hedgehogs disappearing?
Did you know, hedgehogs have lived in Britain for at least half a million years! But, according to the report, "they might not survive in our natural environment for many more. Britain is one of the most nature-depleted nations in the world and the wildlife continues to be lost." However, it can't be put down to one single factor. Badgers, busy roads, fewer hedgerows, invertebrate numbers, landscape connectivity, and climate change all play their part. Hedgehog Street launched in 2011, to encourage us all to raise awareness and build community action to support hedgehogs. Their top tips included:
- Hedgehog Highways
- Chemical free gardening
- Leaving small areas of your garden to grow wild
- Dealing with discarded netting and other hazards.
How can I report hedgehog sightings?
You can help to provide information and statistics on hedgehog numbers by mapping sightings on the BIG Hedgehog Map. Whether you see a live or a dead hedgehog, the organisers would love to gather your recordings to help them continue to build a UK wide picture. So far the map details more than 120,000 sightings which are shared with local and national record centres.
How are we helping hedgehogs in our gardens?
The report states that our gardens, and urban grasslands and green spaces like parks are thoughts to be a refuge for hedgehogs. This means we can all help hedgehogs ourselves by ensuring our gardens are accessible to hoggies. Take a look around your garden - could a hedgehog get in and out again? CD-sized holes in garden fences and gates (once you've checked with your neighbour) are crucial for this, rather than enclosing gardens with brick walls. Can you build a ramp if you have a lot of steps in your garden? Introducing hedgerows, dense bushes, and compost heaps all helps to provide shelter and hibernation space for them. Providing water is vital for hedgehogs, whilst ensuring any ponds or water sources you have in the garden are safe for them. And offering supplementary food can help during the breeding season and just before hibernation to fatten them up through the long, cold winter. It can be best to place this inside a hedgehog house, to give them a safe, secure space in which to eat in comfort!
According to the report, "The first State of Britain's Hedgehogs estimated that a quarter of the population in urban areas had been lost in the first decade of the century. The most recent data show no indication that the decline is continuing. The picture is of a stable population that might be recovering. It should be remember however that any recovery starts from a low baseline at the end of a long period of decline."
How can we help them more in the countryside?
The State of Britain's Hedgehogs 2022 has a number of recommendations for helping hedgehogs in more rural parts of the UK:
- Wide, grassy field margins provide habitat for ground beetles and earth worms - the favourite food of the hedgehog.
- More and denser hedgerows would provide greater shelter for hedgehogs and protection against predators.
- Help for farmers in how they manage land for hedgehogs and regularly updating land management advice to reflect the latest research.
- Training for green space managers to create hedgehog friendly habitats and amenities.
How can you become a hedgehog champion?
Hedgehog Street has loads of information on how you can become a Hedgehog Champion in your local area, or just your own garden. After you register, you are given access to loads of free resources to help you on your way.