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We need to talk about hedgehogs

Logo: The Mammal Society

At a time of year when all respectable hedgehogs should be hibernating, it is vitally important that we should be talking about them.

Hedgehog numbers are declining

Hedgehog drinking by Richard Bowler
Hedgehog drinking by Richard Bowler

Hedgehogs are found in most habitats but they are increasingly associated with urban areas, often being observed in gardens and amenity grasslands. They prey mainly on invertebrates, including ground beetles, worms, crane fly larvae and woodlice.

Along with farmland birds, hedgehogs are often used as an example of the overall decline of biodiversity in the UK. Populations were estimated to be around 1.5 million in 1995 and have since then declined to 500,000 in 2018 according to our latest population review.

Reasons for hedgehog decline

The decline in hedgehog numbers is not solely tied to the loss of habitat and food from the intensification of agriculture and is likely to be linked with a combination of factors. The increase in badger populations resulting in increased competition and predation, for example, may also contribute towards their fall in numbers. More importantly, road collisions have been raised as an important factor contributing to the decline as approximately 200,000 hedgehogs are thought to be killed on roads each year.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

What we have been doing

There is obviously a lot of interest in reducing the number of hedgehogs squashed on roads. To do this, we need to better understand what factors contribute to hedgehog roadkill. In other words, we need to know where, when and why hedgehogs are getting killed on roads. To answer these questions the Mammal Society, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society have teamed up and gathered a large roadkill dataset to answer these questions.

By analysing the relationship between both roadkill data and different landscape variables, we found that hedgehog casualties occurred mainly in areas where both urban habitat and grassland dominated the landscape. In other words, dead hedgehogs are more likely throughout small villages or in the suburbs of larger cities and tend to be safer on small countryside roads.

By identifying roadkill ‘hotspots’ at a very fine resolution, we hope to be able to reduce the number of hedgehogs killed on roads by implementing appropriate mitigation measures where needed. The published work will be out later this month (published on 22 January 2020 - access it here), at which time you will be able to visit our website to find out if you live in a hedgehog road death hotspot.

Getting involved with hedgehog surveys

If you would like to find out more about hedgehogs and other mammals and get more involved in conservation, one of the best things you can do is to join a local group. Our local group map shows local groups near you. If there isn’t one near you we can help you form one, simply get in touch with us at info@themammalsociety.org. Here is a blog from Cambridgeshire Mammal Group member Carole Baber explaining how she undertook a hedgehog survey in her area. It’s a must read for anyone thinking of doing the same.

The easiest way to help the Mammal Society with hedgehog research is to use our Mammal Mapper app! You can record one-off sightings of hedgehogs in your garden, but more importantly for this type of research, you can record your car journeys and any roadkill that you might unfortunately see along the way. Knowing where people are driving and encountering roadkill of different species helps us to determine which species are most at risk in certain areas, and at what times of year.

Pat Morris' Hedgehog book cover
Pat Morris' Hedgehog book cover

For more information about hedgehogs

To find out more about hedgehogs visit our mammal hub and download a factsheet or a field signs factsheet.

If you would like even more details about hedgehogs, our booklet Pat Morris’ The Hedgehog is perfect. You can buy it at NHBS for £4.99 or, if you become a member of the Mammal Society during January or February 2020, you will receive a free copy (see below)!

Throughout the year we run a varied programme of training courses held at venues across the UK. If you are a hedgehog enthusiast, you might be interested in attending one of our Mammal ID Weekends which focus on identifying mammal signs and sightings, or how about Ric Morris’ fantastic Skulls and Bones workshop? You can find out more on our training courses webpage.

Help our Hedgehogs tshirt close up (Mammal Society)
Help our Hedgehogs tshirt close up (Mammal Society)

How you can help support hedgehogs

You can support hedgehog conservation by buying one of our hedgehog t-shirts or hoodies from our teemillstore. Money from the sale of each product will go straight back into research. Later this month we’re launching a special new hedgehog t-shirt so keep an eye on the website for details.

Membership of the Mammal Society costs a maximum of £3 a month, in return you will receive regular copies of our members-only publication Mammal News, as well as discounted training and events and updates on mammal activities happening near you.

Special membership offer - to coincide with the release of our new hedgehog paper anyone becoming a member of the Mammal Society during January/February 2020 will receive a copy of The Hedgehog by Pat Morris – a guide to signs, habitat, activities and all things hedgehog! While stocks last – an alternative book will be sent if we run out.

Hedgehogs in 2020

Hedgehog by Gaia Wilson - Highly Commended in our 2019 Mammal Photographer of the Year competition
Hedgehog by Gaia Wilson - Highly Commended in our 2019 Mammal Photographer of the Year competition

As well as looking at hedgehogs on roads and exploring options for reducing the number of road deaths, for the past two years we have also been finding out more about the effect of artificial lighting on hedgehogs in gardens. We will be publishing the results very soon.

In Spring/Summer 2020 we are planning to get people out and about surveying woodlands. Woodlands are a habitat which we have comparatively little information about and we need to know more about the habits and populations of the mammals which reside there. Look out for requests on social media or sign up to our regular e-bulletin.

Taken a great photo of a hedgehog (or another British mammal)? Why not enter our Mammal Photographer of the Year competition? Its free to enter and you can submit up to five photos. The competition closes on 1 February 2020. Full details are here. Gaia Wilson’s photo from 2019 achieved Highly Commended.