The Declining UK Hedgehog Population
Catherine Stone discusses the recent rapid decline in the hedgehog population and the possible recovery in towns and cities
The full extent of hedgehog decline in recent years has been revealed by a new report. The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022, published by wildlife charities the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), is an update to the 2011 Hedgehog Report. The study used data gathered between 1981 and 2020 from five ongoing surveys (two urban and three rural), including citizen science recording schemes, animal road casualty records, and reports of accidental kills by gamekeepers. The data showed that hedgehogs have suffered a ‘long historic decline’ of between 30 per cent and 70 per cent from 1981 to 2020, with the worst affected areas being in Eastern England. They have been listed as vulnerable on Britain’s IUCN red list of mammals since 2020.
Hedgehogs have suffered a long historic decline of between 30 and 70 per cent from 1981 to 2020
The decline is significantly worse in the countryside, where the vital hedgehog habitats of hedgerows and field margins have been consistently eroded since the Second World War, due to poor management and changing farming practices. The habitat loss results in a lack of food, nesting, and forage availability. Habitat fragmentation means hedgehogs cannot travel safely to find food and mates, and may even become genetically isolated. In urban areas, populations are stabilizing and even showing signs of recovery, despite high road mortality (an estimated 335,000 hedgehogs are killed on roads every year).
Fay Vass, chief executive of BHPS, explains that hedgehogs have been in Britain for at least half a million years. They play an important role in the ecosystem by eating many common garden pests like insects, worms, centipedes, snails, and even mice and frogs.
Hedgehog Street was launched by BHPS and PTES after the 2011 report ‘to raise awareness and build community action to support hedgehog populations’. They recommend several easy measures to make gardens and parks more hedgehog friendly, leaving a ‘wild corner’, checking hedges and undergrowth before strimming or clipping, dealing with garden hazards, and leaving out bowls of water (but never milk, because they are lactose intolerant). Also important are fence gaps to create ‘hedgehog highways’, a connected network of habitat, as urban hedgehogs can travel about a mile every night. Hedgehog Street also run a community of Hedgehog Champions and the BIG Hedgehog Map, that maps sightings by the public to improve understanding of UK hedgehog distribution.
Hedgehog Street was launched by BHPS and PTES to “raise awareness and build community action to support hedgehog populations”
There is a lack of scientific work on how hedgehogs interact with the rural environment, but there is currently a study being carried out by WildCRU University of Oxford to radio-track hedgehogs in Yorkshire and Norfolk. In cities, Hedgehog Street are carrying out several citizen science projects on nesting habits, nocturnal behaviour and winter activity patterns.