Sunday, 13 December 2015

British hedgehog numbers in serious decline

The British Hedgehog is no longer common

Hedgehogs were once a very common animal in the UK, and in the 1950s there were an estimated 36 million living in our gardens, parks and countryside.  Very sadly this is no longer the case and The People's Trust for Endangered Species now believes there are fewer than one million left.  The alarming decline in hedgehog numbers has been reported on in The Guardian and by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Hedgehog (Photo: Public Domain)

Threats to the hedgehog

Like so many endangered species of wildlife the hedgehog has many threats to its continued survival. Pesticides, such as slug bait,  can potentially harm hedgehogs that inadvertently eat poisoned slugs and snails. Even if the slug killer doesn't kill a hedgehog directly, the slugs and snails it does kill could have been food for the spiny animal. Habitat loss and degradation is another problem hedgehogs face. Many gardens are now paved over or kept so tidy that the number of insects and other invertebrates that hedgehogs feed on are drastically reduced in numbers. Hibernating hedgehogs can get burned to death if they are sleeping under a large pile of branches, twigs, leaves and other rubbish that someone has accumulated as a bonfire. 

Flooding caused by Climate Change is another threat to sleeping hedgehogs. Although the animals can swim to safety they are unlikely to be able to do so if water floods where they are resting or hibernating. The hedgehogs would be drowned in their sleep.

Hedgehogs are a very adaptable species that can live in a very great range of habitats and eat a wide variety of foods, including slugs, snails, worms, insects, centipedes, frogs, mice and snakes even. They can climb and swim. They wear a spiny suit-of-armour as a means of defence. They were once very common and widely distributed in the UK, however, like so many forms of British wildlife they have been unable to adapt fast enough to survive the sweeping changes humans have brought to the countryside.


A hedgehog after dark (Photo: Public Domain)

Hedgehogs are one of the main animals that become victims of roadkill. Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal creatures and this means that drivers have less chance of seeing them in the road ahead, and in any case, the animals are very bad at getting out of the way, even if they do sense danger. 

The number of hedgehogs reported as roadkill has fallen drastically too, which suggests that their populations have seriously dwindled in numbers. The animals are not there to run the risk of being killed crossing a road to begin with!

Hedgehogs in popular culture

Hedgehogs have been featured in popular culture in Britain in literature, poetry and song. Beatrix Potter's Mrs Tiggy-Winkle is a character so many children have loved.  Folk-rock icons The Incredible String Band wrote a song entitled The Hedgehog's Song that was included on their album 5000 Spirits

The prickly but cute little animal is a firm favourite of very many people, so it is really saddening to know that the number of hedgehogs in the UK has dropped so dramatically. 

Fortunately, very many people are trying to do something to reverse the decline in hedgehog numbers and to save the little animals before it is too late.  Campaigns have been set up like this one.

It is hard to imagine a British countryside where hedgehogs are an extinct species, so let us do what we can to prevent this ever happening! 

No comments: