Help Save Hedgehogs from a Prickly Fate
Save Hedgehogs Today
In the 1950s there were 50 million hedgehogs in Britain. Now, in 2018, the population stands at just 1 million. Did you know that DEFRA, the UK government department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just approved the sale of A24 traps that can ensnare and kill hedgehogs?
But how can this be so? Aren’t hedgehogs a protected species in the UK? This is true, and while the traps are intended for the ‘dispatching’ of rats and stoats, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) fears that they pose a real threat to hedgies.
Speaking to The Independent, ecologist and hedgehog expert Hugh Warwick warns, “The reality is nobody is going to be policing it, nobody is going to be out there, and hedgehogs will get caught in these traps.”
The A24 traps, designed and made in New Zealand for use in both rural and urban environments, are the last straw for hedgehogs, an endangered species whose existence is already severely under threat. According to The Guardian, Britain’s hedgehogs are dying out at a rate of approximately one fifth of its population every four years. If this trajectory continues, they will be extinct in Britain by 2025.
So why is it vital that we save our hedgehogs? Voted the nation’s favourite wild animal, these discreet, quiet and dignified creatures are the country’s only spiny mammal. Because hedgehogs love eating slugs and worms, they also play an invaluable part in providing natural pest control.
If you care about helping hedgehogs before it’s too late, please take a moment to sign this petition to DEFRA, calling for A24 traps to be banned in the UK.
Why is the Hedgehog Population in Rapid Decline?
In addition to the deadly traps, there are many reasons why we have been seeing far fewer of our prickly friends around in recent years.
Hedgehogs thrive in hedgerows which they use for navigation and nesting, but according to Henry Johnson, Hedgehog Officer at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), hedgerows are being lost, as farmers seek efficiency through larger fields and the use of ‘flailing’ machines to chop them back.
Rural areas once provided a good supply of invertebrates on which hedgehogs could feed, but the widespread use of pesticides in farming and the intensive management of pastures with herbicides and fertilisers has significantly curtailed the hedgehogs’ food supply.
While hedges and woodlands provide a certain degree of protection from predators, the British countryside is also home to foxes and a growing number of badgers, hedgehogs’ natural predators.
A recent study suggests that many urban areas now have higher hedgehog populations than the surrounding countryside. Carrie Arnold at National Geographic writes that urban hedgehogs tend to sleep in private gardens during the day, but as night falls, they branch out into streets and parks in search of food scraps. But here the dangers lie – many hedgehogs get run over on busy roads and others get tangled up in tennis nets or die inside expanded polystyrene cups which get stuck to their prickles.
Due to rapid urban growth, scrubby and brambly areas which are ideal for hibernation are being lost to concrete car parks and housing estates. Those developments which do have gardens are often enclosed by impermeable fencing and walls which limit the areas of connected land so crucially needed by hedgehogs in order for them to find food and other hedgehogs to mate with.
Gardens have the potential to provide hedgehogs with an abundance of everything they need to thrive, including a plentiful supply of food, potential nesting sites for breeding and resting sites for hibernation. Unfortunately, the conditions in many gardens are far from ideal for hedgehogs. Over-tidy gardening can remove dead wood, with foraging areas covered by drives and decking and landscaping replacing lawns. The use of slug pellets and pesticides can poison hedgehogs and kill the invertebrates they eat. Hedgehogs doze in long summer grass, where strimmers can accidentally chop them up.
What More Can I Do to Help Hedgehogs?
If you have fences in your back garden, one free and simple step you can take is to make a small hole in the bottom of your fence to allow hedgehogs to move through. If enough houses do this, hedgehogs will have plenty of gardens to roam around in. A gap measuring 13cm square is sufficient to allow an adult hedgehog to pass, yet small enough to prevent almost all pets squeezing through.
Hedgehogs love meaty cat and dog food, so why not leave a dish out for them? Bear in mind that hedgies are lactose intolerant and milk gives them stomach problems, so only provide water for them to drink.
Hedgehogs are good swimmers but often drown in ponds through exhaustion because they are unable to find a way out. If you have a pond, ensure there is an escape route such as a large stone or log.
Check any wood piles before removing or burning them to make sure there aren’t any hedgehogs hiding inside.
Hedgehog Street is a joint campaign run by the PTES and the BHPS which was launched to raise awareness that wherever you live, the green space in your local area can be a vital refuge for hedgehogs. Why not join the 30,000 heroes for hedgehogs registered on their website, so you can help ensure that the hedgehog remains a familiar and integral part of British life?
Ten Facts About Hedgehogs
1. With a total of 17 species worldwide, hedgehogs are found across Europe, Centra Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
2. Each hedgehog has around 5,000 spikes, also known as quills, each of which lasts about a year.
3. Hedgehogs have poor eyesight, but excellent senses of hearing and smell – they can sniff out a dog from 35 feet.
4. The most common pet hedgehog in the UK is the African pygmy hedgehog, sold in pet stores across the country.
5. Hedgehogs are surprisingly agile – they can run over six feet per second and jump two feet to catch a beetle.
6. In 2006, McDonalds in the UK changed their packaging for their McFlurry ice creams after it was found that hedgehogs were getting their heads stuck in the discarded lids.
7. Hedgehogs are well represented in literature – think Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, the ‘hedgepigs’ and ‘urchins’ referred to by Shakespeare in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the poor hedgehogs used as balls in a game of croquet by The Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.
8. The name for a baby hedgehog is a hoglet, with litters averaging four to five hoglets each.
9. Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures and use the valuable night hours to go on quests for sustenance.
10. They’re utterly adorable!