Rural Hedgehog Population in Steep Decline

Hedgehog, by Tomaz Demsar at Slovenien Wikipedia, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Hedgehog, by Tomaz Demsar at Slovenien Wikipedia, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

A new report shows a steep decline in Britain’s rural hedgehog population. The report is called The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022, and it was written by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS).

Since 2020, hedgehogs have been on the IUCN Red List, as vulnerable to extinction in Great Britain. The new report says there is a stark contrast in hedgehog fortunes in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the population has declined by between one third and three quarters over the last 20 years.

In urban areas, where hedgehogs benefit from gardens and parks, their population is stable and might be recovering.

Hedgehogs are difficult to count! That’s because they are widespread but scarce. The report is based on five surveys, two of them mainly from urban areas:

  • the PTES Living with Mammals survey and
  • BTO’s Big Garden Birdwatch

The three rural surveys are:

  • the National Gamebag Census
  • the Breeding Bird Survey and
  • Mammals on Roads

Hedgehogs appear to have declined in the west more than the east; remaining areas of high abundance are SE Scotland, N Wales, and E England.

Why are Hedgehog Numbers Falling?

Hedghogs have existed in Britain for at least 500,000 years, but we are now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and as a result hedgehogs are declining.

The biggest cause is loss of habitat, including loss of hedgerows, loss of field margins with an abundance of invertebrates, and a lack of connectivity in the landscape. Climate change is also having an effect.

Tackling the Decline

Urban Areas

PTES and BHPS launched Hedgehog Street in 2011, to raise awareness of hedgehogs’ plight and build community action.

Suggested actions inlclude cutting small holes at the bases of garden fences to create ‘hedgehog highways’, and eliminating the use of garden chemicals like slug pellets. Providing hedgehog houses and supplementary food is also recommended.

Hedgehog Street also runs an interactive Hedgehog Map where the public can report hedgehog sightings, living or dead.

Rural Areas

In rural areas, hedgehogs need:

  • wide, grassy field margins
  • complex habitat with more and denser hedgerows
  • road underpasses (though it is not yet certain how effective these are)

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