How you can help stop decline of hedgehogs and their baby ‘hedgehoglets’
- Credit: PA
Both Environment Agency and BBC Wildlife magazine polls revealed the hedgehog to be Britain’s most popular wild animal.
One of 14 species across the globe, the Native West European hedgehog, (or Erinaceus europaeus) qualifies as Britain’s only spiny mammal.
Loved by the people, but misunderstood when it comes to its biology and habits, the name is well suited to this creature of the night as it prefers a woodland edge habitat that is ubiquitous to much of the British mainland.
This species is equally at home in rural and urban areas with evidence now suggesting that urban areas are its stronghold.
They are often held in high esteem by gardeners as they devour a range of common garden pests, including slugs, caterpillars and leather jackets.
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However they also consume beneficial beetles and on rare occasions have been known to take small frogs, birds eggs and baby birds.
Mating known as ‘the rut’ occurs between May and June where in a process that can last for hours, males ceremoniously snort and circle a prospective mate.
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Mating itself could be perceived as a prickly, problematic process but this is countered by the female adopting a body stance which flattens out the spines, of which there are an average of 600 per adult.
Females give birth in June or July to an average of four or five young which have recently adopted the delightful name “Hoglets” or “Hedgehoglets”.
Unfortunately this species has been having a hard time recently with an alarming annual population decline of around 5 percent.
A quarter of the UK’s hedgehog population is thought to have been lost between 2001- 2011.
The reason for this decline isn’t fully understood but in rural areas factors such as hedgerow loss, intense farming and the reliance on pesticides are thought to be factors.
In urban areas increased traffic, over tidiness of gardeners and a lack of connectivity between gardens due to more secure fencing also create issues.
We can assist our spiky friends by leaving a 13x13 cmsq gap at the bottom of a garden fence.
The removal of a brick or creation of a small channel allows unimpeded travel between gardens, giving animals a bigger range to forage and find mates.
Radio tagging has shown hedgehogs can travel up to 3km in a night roaming up to 30 hectares.
We are working with volunteers Heath Hands to survey the hedgehog population and develop a clearer understanding of its favoured locations. This involves using footprint tunnels with ink pads that show animal tracks - a non-invasive, safe and robust method to gauge the location of this species.
We have already identified simple changes to management practices that can enhance breeding and feeding opportunities for Britain’s favourite wild mammal.