The plight of the Hedgehog
The plight of the noble hedgehog has been in and out of the public eye for many years. Strangely, for such a creature which is named the European hedgehog and exists around the whole of Europe; the hedgehog is characteristically British.
Perhaps this is because so much British literature tends to make use of the hedgehog’s fuzzy appearance. From Alice’s wonderland to Mrs Tiddy-Winkle in Beatrix Potter’s bedtime stories – Hedgehogs are featured heavily in British culture.
From young ages we come to love them, and so it is only natural that their demise should rouse our spirits, raise our brows and stir some form of action.
Estimates of the hedgehog population in the 1950’s was around 36 million across England, Wales, Scotland’s and Northern Ireland. While today, most modern estimates place the total population in the range of one million individuals.
Desolation is the first thought that such figures conjure.
That such a magnificently large population can be reduced to such pitiful numbers is nothing but a national tragedy. The cause lies in a multitude of emerging changes to our countries landscape. The destruction of hedgerows and natural barriers in creating larger fields has hit their habitats and has reduced their breeding grounds. The large-scale and increased use of commercially available pesticides has killed of large swaths of their food sources. The lack of multi-crop fields with varied cover has also made them more visible to aerial predators.
Finally, the most deafening nail in the coffin which has silenced the hedgehog population is the inability to successfully travel. Naturally, fewer habitats mean they must travel farther for mates. Less invertebrates, mean they must cover more ground for the same amount of food. Yet, carving these migration routes in two is our intricate and numerous road systems.
Thus, traffic is the final element in the perfect storm which has brought about the genocide of the British hedgehog population.
Yet, we can make changes which will halt their destruction. We should only be cutting hedgerows every three-four years and natural field barriers should be left untouched. Pesticide should be used sparingly and our road systems should incorporates wildlife bridges which enable the safe travel between fields, forests and other natural highways. However, these are not changes that we as the everyday citizens can enact.
What you can do is obviously on a smaller scale, but its impact across millions of households could be very meaningful. Firstly, you should avoid pesticides as they damage the natural ecosystem and leave large gaps in the food chain. Secondly enclosed gardens are problematic for hedgehogs as the cannot get in nor out of them. Small gaps which allow them to travel are much kinder and will encourage the hedgehogs in your area. Finally, you could consider providing them with a home. As as result of creating a safe space for them to overwinter, you can help greater numbers in the population of hedgehogs in your area survive.
For more information on helping the hedgehogs in your area, please explore this section of the Trust’s website.