Immortalised by Beatrix Potter, the hedgehog was chosen as the best natural emblem for the British nation in a BBC Wildlife Magazine poll. Yet in the past ten years, the hedgehog population nationwide has decreased by over a third between 2003 and 2012; and unfortunately, seeing a hedgehog in your garden is no longer a common occurrence.
The Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) believes that there are now less than a million hedgehogs left in the UK – down from the 36 million that existed back in the 1950s. The reasons for this astonishing decrease seem to be due to habitat loss, poor management of hedgerows and fragmentation of habitat due to new roads, and housing developments. Tens of thousands of hedgehogs are killed by road traffic each year.
The Chief Executive of Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, Matt Shardlow, confirmed that ‘Rural populations of hedgehogs have declined by about two-thirds in the last 20 years. In Oundle and surrounding villages it is still possible to find hedgehogs, and sadly occasionally one is seen dead at the side of the road, but this is much less frequent than was once the case and anyone with a resident hedgehog is now very lucky indeed.
‘The causes of the decline are not fully understood, but reduced numbers of earthworms and other soil invertebrates due to ploughing and pesticides is likely to be an important factor. Hedgehogs need to put on a lot of weight to hibernate successfully. If you are blessed with hedgehogs in your garden, leave cover for them, don’t pave it, and check any wood piles before bonfires.’
Barnwell Park is currently doing what they can to help locally with this situation. One of the Barnwell Park Rangers, Georgina Flowers suggested that a possible way to help is to ‘create habitat piles that will hopefully provide shelter for the hedgehogs as well as a habitat for their prey’. And she also recommended that for anyone making fires out in the woods or park or even in the backyard, it is a good idea to ‘dismantle any standing habitat piles’ to minimise risk of the homes of sheltered animals such as hedgehogs getting burnt or damaged in any way. The Barnwell Park rangers are also looking to install some hedgehog homes and tunnels later in this year.
Stef Graves and her colleague Nicola Scott, a registered veterinary nurse run a hedgehog rehabilitation centre in Warmington. Stef loves hedgehogs and has now been rehabilitating them for many years, and Nicola now helps with nursing care, medicating and arranging for serious problems to be dealt with at the two vet practices in the area.
The hedgehog rehabilitation centre is a result of Nicola and Stef’s shared love for hedgehogs. They have both adapted parts of their own homes into places suitable for restoring the health of the hedgehogs which they encounter. They work with different aspects of the rehabilitation process, helping to raise the young, tend to injury and illness, and supplying food, water and shelter. Finding a suitable release site is also a big concern.
Like other wildlife observers they too have noticed the decline in hedgehog population. The majority of the hedgehogs brought into the centre are sick due to starvation or human harm, such as road accidents.
If people find an ill or an injured hedgehog, Nicola Scott and Stef Graves recommend first of all that they contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society helpline for information about a local carer, or go to a local vet, who will not usually charge for wildlife rescue.
They said: ‘NEVER leave a hedgehog (or any animal) to ‘see if it’s OK’. If they appear to be ‘sun-bathing’ in the summer or winter, either way they are probably very sick. During the winter of 2016 we had several hedgehogs brought in to the practice that had been left to freeze to death for over 24 hours. It’s heart-breaking and unnecessary. In the summer it’s the other extreme, where they are so dehydrated they die soon after being admitted.
‘The old advice to just leave it in a box overnight to see if it survives is more likely to prolong suffering and increase its chance of dying. If you can’t get hold of a rescue centre, call your vet and insist the animal is seen. In these instances, a carer or vet could have either saved the animal or prevented it from suffering.’
Luckily, there are some things that people can do to encourage hedgehogs in their gardens. Hedgehogs are suffering from lack of food, therefore leaving food out for them such as cat or dog food, whether tinned or dry, would really be helpful.
People need to take care when having bonfires, or even strimming and gardening, because these activities can cause damage to hedgehog habitats and render them homeless.
However, arguably one of the most important things could be to ‘DRIVE CAREFULLY’; a hedgehog’s way of self-defence is to curl up into a ball instead of fleeing the scene and, unfortunately, this does not help them survive big oncoming cars.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society based in Shropshire includes patrons Ann Widdecomb and Ben Fogle. If you find a hedgehog, their helpline can provide information about contacts for local carers: 01584 890 801.
By Eldad Eradiri