By Annette J Beveridge
Hedgehogs may be the nation’s favourite but their numbers have greatly declined over the years. They are now sadly, listed on the Red List for British mammals and the odds for their survival are stacked against them. Once common, there is now a crisis and we must do all we can to protect them.
Why are hedgehogs at risk?
Many people have become disconnected from nature. The humble hedgehog is rarely seen as it is nocturnal, and so it may be a case of out of sight, out of mind. The divide between everyday life and the natural world grows ever wider as life generally has become increasingly busy. People want a garden in which to relax, but do not necessarily have the time to tend to it. So, of late, there has been an increase in the use of plastic grass, fake hedging, and the concreting of gardens. This may seem like a plausible option but it alienates hedgehogs and restricts their ability to hunt. Hedgehogs have to navigate over increased paving and decking, struggle with artificial turf while searching for food, and they may drown in water features if there is no easy way out. With a tendency to wander for miles, our gardens are blocked off with walls or fencing which all hamper progress.
Hedgehogs are gardeners’ friends and will happily eat many of the pests that gardeners dislike and yet there is often a desire for a quick solution rather than working alongside nature. Slug pellets are used too often and they kill all insects and bugs, but these are the very foods most desired by hedgehogs, and due to a lack of care, hedgehogs may die as a result.
Our roads and the speed at which people drive, create many fatalities and injuries to the hedgehog population. A staggering 335,000 + hedgehogs are injured or killed on the roads each year. Poorly-lit areas, new roads or fast speeds will only increase mortality rates. A study in 2016 took a midline approach when calculating numbers but the latest figures suggest the problem could be much worse. In addition, new industrial developments also cause issues as they break up existing populations which leads to hedgehogs having to travel further to breed.
Helping hedgehogs to survive
Anyone who wants to help hedgehogs can do so. Feed them with a meat-based pet food but do not put out bread or milk. The most important aid is to leave a small dish of water. So many hedgehogs drown in ponds so always leave an escape route if you have one. A sloping bank, or bricks or rocks leading up to the edge will provide a quick lifeline. Avoid using pesticides in the garden, and create log piles which will encourage hedgehogs to rummage.
Create gaps in fencing or hedgerows to allow hedgehogs to move in and out of the garden freely. Talk to your neighbours and if possible, create a hedgehog highway.
Cover drains and ensure rubbish is safely out of reach. Sometimes, hedgehogs become trapped in bags and die of suffocation. Keep garage doors and greenhouses closed so that hedgehogs cannot become trapped in them. Garden appliances, including garden forks and strimmers can be dangerous and during the autumn/winter months, check piles of leaves before disposing of them as hedgehogs may have curled up in them.
We can make a difference to the hedgehog population but we must take this decline seriously. Numbers have fallen by approximately 50% in the last 20 years. By making subtle changes, it is possible to help them to survive. Build a hedgehog house or buy one and make your garden welcoming. By providing food and water and a safe place to sleep, your local hedgehog population will increase.