Hedgehogs in trouble in the countryside, but faring better in towns

The State Of Britain’s Hedgehogs report found population declines of 30%-75% in rural areas in the past two decades.

22 February 2022

Hedgehog populations have plummeted across the countryside since the turn of the century, a new study has warned.

But there is a more hopeful picture for the prickly garden visitors in towns and cities, where a stable population might be recovering, the report from conservation charities shows.

The latest State Of Britain’s Hedgehogs report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) draws on a number of surveys carried out in rural and urban areas.

These include citizen science recording schemes, animal road casualty records, and reports of accidental kills by gamekeepers.

Data from 1981 to 2020 shows that hedgehogs have undergone long historic declines, but now the differing fortunes of rural and urban populations are becoming increasingly apparent.

The report warns that between 30% and 75% of the population of hedgehogs has been lost in rural areas in the last two decades, with declines varying between regions and the largest falls in the eastern half of England.

But in urban areas it is better news.

While the first State Of Britain’s Hedgehogs report in 2011 estimated that a quarter of the population in urban areas had been lost in the first decade of the century, the latest data shows no evidence that the decline has continued.

The picture is of a stable population that might be recovering – albeit from a low baseline after a long period of decline, the report said.

BHPS chief executive Fay Vass said: “Hedgehogs as we know them today have lived here for at least half a million years, but they’re now facing myriad pressures which are causing populations to plummet, particularly in the rural landscape.

“The reasons for their decline are complex and aren’t yet fully understood, but two of the main pressures hedgehogs face in both rural and urban areas is lack of suitable habitat and habitat fragmentation.”

Nida Al-Fulaij, conservation research manager at PTES and one of the report’s authors, said the charity is really alarmed at what is happening in the countryside, and wants to work with farmers to make landscapes more hedgehog-friendly.

“If you picture a landscape, the greater mosaic of different habitats and varied features, and varied species within those features, the better it is not just for hedgehogs but for everything,” she said.

Getting hedgerows, the habitat that gives hedgehogs their name, into good condition would help, providing more and thicker hedges for food and cover, with different species such as broadleaf trees for leaves they can nest in, Ms Al-Fulaij said.

Hedgehogs will also benefit from field margins that are not sprayed so there is a supply of food such as slugs, caterpillars and bugs.

“The crucial thing will be to make this habitat to increase the food availability and nesting and forage availability across the landscape.”

Ms Al-Fulaij said the wildlife charity supports moves to fund hedgerow creation as part of the new farming payments scheme, but warned there is also a need to make sure existing hedges are in good condition.

Action is also still needed in towns and cities, where householders are advised to provide access through fences, and make their gardens suitable for hedgehogs.

“Don’t Astroturf your garden; if you can make some rough and wild areas as hedgehog-friendly as possible, then that’s great,” she said.

There is also a need to think about how to manage parks and other green space, with positive moves in the past couple of years where councils are undertaking less spraying of verges and reducing mowing, Ms Al-Fulaij added.

“Don’t be afraid to approach your council and park managers and encourage them, and it might be they are quite enthusiastic to do it because it means less work not more work.”

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