Why are there so few hedgehogs around?
The hedgehog is an iconic species of our British countryside. They are instantly recognisable, surprisingly widespread and yet still quite mysterious. Often known as the “gardener’s friend” due to their penchant for common garden invertebrates, such as beetles, slugs, worms, snails and caterpillars, hedgehogs will visit several gardens in an area, relying on their acute sense of smell to find food in the dark.
Despite their varied diet, hedgehog numbers are in serious decline both in rural and urban areas. Reports indicate at least a quarter of the population has been lost in the last 10 years. The reasons for this decline are not known for certain but are likely to include:
- More intensive agriculture with larger fields, less permanent grassland and fewer hedgerows. This gives hedgehogs fewer places to find food and makes them more exposed to predators.
- Use of pesticides causing a widespread decline in prey availability.
- New roads and building developments dividing up suitable habitats and separating populations, making them more vulnerable local extinction and road accidents.
- In towns and villages, smaller and tidier gardens with impenetrable fences, that make it harder to move between gardens, have reduced the amount of suitable urban habitat.
Hedgehogs & badgers
Badger populations have increased over the last 30 years and there is some concern that this is the cause of the hedgehog decline. It is true that hedgehogs are preyed upon by badgers and that badgers will compete with hedgehogs for food, however the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society have found no evidence that badgers are an important factor affecting hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are declining just as severely in urban areas, where they rarely encounter badgers, as they are in the wider countryside. Also in areas where there are low badger numbers, such as East Anglia, hedgehogs are declining as much as in areas with lots of badgers. Whilst it is true that hedgehogs will avoid areas with high numbers of badgers, it is the lack of suitable habitat and availability of insect food that is having the biggest effect. Bigger, better and more joined up hedgehog-friendly habitat is the best way to help them.
If you discover a sick or injured hedgehog in your garden please contact a local vet or wildlife rescue service.