Hedgehogs in the UK are in trouble. They have declined in population from an estimated 30 million in the 1950's to fewer than 1 million today—an alarmingly fast rate that could cause them to face regional extinction by 2025. Currently, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in Britain, but they still need our help!
In urban areas, private gardens are often the most suitable habitats for hedgehogs. There is typically plenty of vegetation - and therefore there are plenty of insects, slugs and other invertebrates for hedgehogs to eat - and there are usually limited paved surfaces. However, gardens are not without their own suite of hedgehog hazards. Read more here.
One of the biggest threats to hedgehogs is habitat loss. Over the last several decades, intensive farming practices have favoured larger fields to accommodate heavy machinery and maximise crop yields. Such size increases have coincided with the removal of hedgerows, permanent grassland and other valuable hedgehog habitats, thereby reducing the availability of safe nesting sites and leaving hedgehogs more vulnerable to foxes, badgers, stoats and other predators.
Hedgerow removal coupled with the prolonged, heavy use of commercial pesticides has also served to reduce the abundance of invertebrates on which hedgehogs rely for food - further decreasing habitat suitability for hedgehogs. We are always keen to work with farmers to encourage hedgehogs. Modern farming can have a positive effect on hedgehog populations with input from us.
With between 100,000 and 200,000 road casualties each year, hedgehogs account for 16% of road-kill and are the second most likely animal to fall victim to cars or lorries. Based on road-kill surveys conducted by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), hedgehog numbers in England have noticeably fallen every year since 2001. Research suggests this decline could be partially attributed to hedgehogs’ poor awareness of roads: whereas rabbits exhibit alarm when vehicles approach within 161 metres, (giving them roughly six seconds to get out of the way of a car travelling at 60mph), hedgehogs only respond once a vehicle is within hearing range (approximately 8 metres). Further, the hedgehog’s natural defence of curling up in a ball provides no protection against a speeding vehicle.
Climate change affects temperature, which affects hibernation, albeit indirectly—wildlife hibernate because there is not enough food available to justify the energy expenditure of foraging. Changes in local weather patterns due to global climatic shifts can lead to decreased abundances of invertebrates on which hedgehogs depend for food. Without sufficient food, hedgehogs cannot build-up large enough fat stores to survive hibernation.
Hedgehogs typically roam between 1 and 2 kilometres every night, often visiting multiple gardens when foraging for food. Modern-day fences are designed for seclusion and privacy, which can be detrimental to local hedgehogs since fences prevent movement between garden properties. This causes hedgehog populations to become increasingly isolated, and impairs their ability to forage for sufficient food. An easy way of increasing access to enclosed areas is to cut a 5-inch (12-centimetre) hole into the fence board or the lower panels of your fence to provide unrestricted access for Grace and her friends to forage. When possible, use environmentally safe wood preservatives on sheds, fences etc. as hedgehogs often lick new smells or substances—your local garden centre should be able to advise.
Dropped litter can be deadly to hedgehogs. They can easily become entangled in the plastic rings that hold cans together or wedged in yoghurt pots, empty tins or fast food containers. Unable to wriggle free, they may face starvation or increased risk of predation. Please dispose of litter properly and crush all your tin cans before recycling them.
In a win for hedgehogs, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society successfully persuaded fast food giants McDonald’s and KFC to changed their packaging in 2006 to be more 'Hedgehog Friendly'.