British Mammal In A Prickly Situation!
Gabrielle Cruttenden, Nature Correspondent
Hedgehogs are one of the most iconic critters of the British countryside, and are an animal who’s influence has interwoven through British culture and literature throughout the centuries; be that in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, and even in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
The love we have for hedgehogs has also recently been clearly demonstrated by the increase of hedgehog carers and rehabilitators for the sick and injured hogs. But our little hogs are in trouble; their numbers have dropped dramatically over the past decade, particularly in rural areas, and the end of this decline does not seem to be in sight.
So why are one of the country’s most beloved wild mammals in such danger?
The intensification of agriculture, with larger fields and fewer hedgerows has taken away many nesting and protection sites for hedgehogs in rural areas. The availability of prey, such as earthworms and slugs, in these highly managed agricultural fields can also be scarce due to the intense use of pesticides.
Around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on roads every year, and the sustainability of this level of mortality is not currently known.
How to help
While this paints a bleak image for the rural hog, fear not! There are many simple ways everyone can help:
Make your garden a hedgehog garden!
Hedgehogs are actually very successful in urban areas, using areas such as cemeteries, railways and private gardens, utilising our short cut grass to easily snuffle up juicy worms.
The key to this success, however, is connectivity.
Private gardens are often enclosed by impassable fences, leaving hedgehogs excluded to the concrete jungles, where food and water sources are scarce.
Cutting a small hole (13x13cm) in the bottom of fences can help hedgehogs traverse neighbourhoods, and opening up fences with a device called a ‘hedgehog highway’ (available from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk) can also ensure no one tries to block up your conservation efforts!
Features such as ponds do attract large numbers of water-loving insects, which can provide valuable food sources for hedgehogs. But hedgehogs are not strong swimmers, and will tire easily should they fall in!
Making sure your pond has a nice slope for trapped hogs, and other mammals, to escape can be an easy hedgehog-friendly adaptation. These can be made when the pond is first built, or by placing rocks and bricks in a step formation out of the pond.
Brash piles of logs, twigs and scrubby bramble will also provide a welcome nesting spot, particularly in winter! Just be sure to thoroughly check these nest sites come bonfire night, or if these are to be chipped.
Food, glorious food!
Hedgehogs are insectivores, basically meaning they will eat any little critter they can snuffle out! Be that earthworms, caterpillars, beetles, and anything else they can get their paws on!
However, cat food is a welcome treat for our hogs should they come across it!
Leaving a bowl of meat-based (no fish!) wet cat food, or dry biscuits will help hogs when food availability is scarce. Especially produced hedgehog food can also be purchased from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
While mealworms are a very tasty snack to our hogs, they are not very healthy for them, and will often lead to picky hedgehogs not wanting to try anything else!
Imagine asking a child if they would prefer the scrumptious bar of milk chocolate, or the bowl of sprouts!
If you feed birds these at a feeder, hedgehogs will happily munch at the scraps left below, but try not to provide these in large amounts.
During the summer, always make sure bowls of water are left in your garden to help dehydrated hogs on their way!
Record your visitors
Hedgehog data is often patchy, and population estimates are somewhat inaccurate at the moment.
One of the easiest ways that you can help scientists think of new ways to help hedgehogs, or identify where they might need the most help, is by recording visitors to your newly opened gardens!
The Mammal Mapper app (available on IOS or Android) is the Mammal Society’s new recorder, that allows you to input sightings of any mammals you may see, including hogs, straight on your phone.
This data can then be used to create accurate images of where hedgehog populations are thriving, or declining, and helps us to help them!
For more information on this – visit www.mammal.org.uk.
Beloved and in danger
Hedgehogs are a beloved British mammal, and an iconic animal in our countryside. The plight of our hogs is becoming increasingly apparent; but so are efforts to stop it!
Small changes to our homes, and our mindset, can make a big difference to our prickly pigs, and the environment as a whole!
For more information about hedgehogs – visit www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
British Mammal In A Prickly Situation!, 11th February 2019, 19:00 PM