How to help hedgehogs thrive
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One of the nation’s favourite critters is in decline, but there’s plenty you can do to help keep hedgehogs thriving
Ever hear the scuttle of little feet in your garden at night? That’s most likely the sound of the beloved hedgehog. Instantly recognisable with its small pig-like snout and dark eyes, this elusive tiny critter was once crowned Britain’s ‘national species’ in a BBC Wildlife Magazine poll. The west European hedgehog is one of about 17 hedgehog species worldwide and unmistakable as Britain’s only spiny mammal. Their highly specialised coat contains around 6,000 creamy-brown spines and conceals greyish fur on their underside, surprisingly long legs and a short tail.
But in recent years hedgehog numbers have dwindled: according to reports hedgehogs are now something of a rare sight in British gardens – and are in fact disappearing at the same rate as tigers worldwide. Rural hedgehogs in the UK have halved since 2000, while urban hedgehogs have declined by a third. More widely, UK hedgehog numbers have dropped from an estimated 30 million in the 1950s to under one million today – and we are to blame. With changing lifestyles, busier roads and the removal of hedges, their homes have been ravaged.
In 2011 Hedgehog Street, the only nationwide campaign run by two UK-based charities – People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – was launched. It encourages garden owners to create hedgehog friendly neighbourhoods that can ensure we stop this sad decline.
We know hedgehogs love gardens and fortunately there are around half a million hectares of green space in the UK, so creating and maintaining an ideal hedgehog habitat in your garden will really help them to survive in your area. Tidy, fenced or walled gardens are not good for hedgehogs as it doesn’t allow them to roam for food, shelter and mates. Hedgehogs need neighbourhoods of linked-up gardens to survive. You can make a small hole in your fence to allow hedgehogs to pass through from garden to garden safely.
You can also encourage natural hedgehog food like insects into the garden by planting a wild corner or by having a compost heap. It will also be helpful for people to remove hazards from their gardens like litter, tying up loose netting, not using pesticides or slug pellets, and making sure there is a way for hedgehogs to get out of your pond if they happen to stumble into it.
For those that are lucky enough to spot the nocturnal creature, the campaign asks for them to record their sighting on the BIG Hedgehog Map on their website (visit hedgehogstreet.org) The map will allow you to move the cursor to the exact spot where you saw the hedgehog, which helps the organisation to build up a national picture of where they are living and where they are in most need of help. Although it will tug at the heart strings, recording those that have died is still useful to keep up to date with the species.
Families can also use the concept of building hedgehog homes with their children and make it an educational experience. All of this is important because the hedgehog is more fragile than its prickly exterior suggests. If we want to continue hearing their rustling in the undergrowth, it is our responsibility to save them.