In my last piece I covered the ‘State of Nature’ report, including its findings that much of our wildlife is declining at an alarming rate. To illustrate this here is a closer look at a once familiar animal – the hedgehog.
I often used to see hedgehogs, both here in West Bromwich, and elsewhere, but now I can’t remember when I last saw one. In 2011 the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) estimated that the population had reduced by a quarter since the year 2000. More recent work paints a bleaker picture still: rural populations down by a half, and urban populations down by a third.
There may be many reasons for this. In the countryside problems include the continuing loss of hedgerows and permanent grassland, increased traffic, and, say some, predation and competition for food, especially worms, by badgers. The last is unlikely because hedgehogs and badgers have successfully lived together for millennia.
In urban areas, which were once thought to be refuges for hedgehogs, the causes could be changes in gardening fashions; more decking and paving, tidier borders, and fences replacing hedges. If hedgehogs cannot move from garden to garden their populations become isolated and vulnerable to local extinction. In both town and country, the continuing heavy use of herbicides and pesticides damages the support mechanisms for all wildlife, not just hedgehogs.
The plight of hedgehogs brings home to all of us the problems facing all wildlife, but at least most we can help our spiny friends. Not by putting out bread and milk please, that is no good at all. The BHPS recommends making it easier for hedgehogs to move around and under walls and fences. Those managing parks and larger gardens around institutions can do their bit too, and not be over tidy, especially at this time of the year. Leave some piles of leaves here and there, be careful poking about in odd corners or compost heaps, where hedgehogs might be hibernating and, of course, check any bonfires for their presence.
If many factors combined are causing hedgehog decline, perhaps many small actions by gardeners and parks and open spaces managers can help to turn the tide. For more information, have a look at the BHPS website: http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/