Seen a Hedgehog recently? No, neither have I. They were very common when I was a lad. Some put the numbers in the 1950’s as high as 30 million or more. We would often leave milk and bread out food on a winter evening. Of course it should have been something like dog food, but back then nobody worried about the disappearance of the little fellow as they were always ‘there’. This morning, on the radio, they had a piece on the decline in Hedgehog numbers that caught my ear. Tom Holland and companions were out looking for signs in a nearby wood. They couldn’t find any signs of the wee fellows despite setting up little food traps to record their passing. No wonder with numbers down just over 1 Million. The graph below records the rapid decline since 2000.
What the radio item did not do was try to explain was why? Badgers eat Hedgehogs and have been blamed. Their rapid rise in numbers during this period does coincide with the Hedgehogs decline. They also compete for the same food. However, the decline in Hedgehogs is the same in areas where Badger numbers are low or non-existent. Other environmental factors are at play.
The evidence suggests:
In rural areas:
⚫ Widespread use of pesticides reduces the invertebrates hedgehogs eat
⚫ Larger field sizes makes it difficult for hedgehogs to move around the landscape
⚫ Hedgerow management by flailing now leads to the hedges with gappy bases, poor for nesting
⚫ Intensive management of pastures with herbicides and fertilizers reduce the amount of invertebrates
⚫ Increasing badgers – the main natural predator – may have an effect where habitat is already degraded
⚫ Permanent pastures are also lost to the plough
⚫ Impermeable garden fencing and walls limits the area of connected land available
⚫ Gardens lost to car parking or decking directly reduces foraging area
⚫ Busy roads cause mortalities and they can also disrupt dispersal routes for hedgehogs
⚫ New developments usually lack any connectivity between gardens
⚫ Hibernation habitat, typically scrubby or
brambly areas, are frequently lost through overmanagement or development
⚫ Over-tidy gardening can remove dead wood, replace foraging areas with drives and decking and clear away overgrown corners
⚫ Use of pesticides and slug pellets can poison animals and kills the invertebrates ‘hogs eat
What can we do?
Well, we can make our gardens a bit more untidy with Log piles, compost heaps, leaf piles, overgrown corners, and wildflower patches. I appear to have a number of these features already! They encourage the bugs, creepy-crawlies etc that the hedge pigs need. For the more ambitious how about a hedgehog purpose-built home. But the really important thing is to think of our gardens as part of a larger habitat for the hedgehog and enable them to move around the area with more ease. make sure they can find routes to the next garden or field and are not trapped.