All is not well with the hedgehog population in our country. After 15 million years of evolution, hedgehogs have changed very little. However, our society has.
The numbers of hedgehogs in our countryside is dropping rapidly, due to a number of factors. In the 1950s, there were an estimated 36 million hedgehogs in Britain: now sadly it is estimated to be just 1.5 million. They are declining at about the same rate as tigers.
Intensive agriculture, the increasing use of pesticides both on farms and in our gardens, more predators, and more and more buildings have all contributed to the decline of our spiky friends. May 3-9 is Hedgehog Awareness week, which is now an annual event on the calendar.
We can do little to halt the erosion of the hedgehog’s natural habitat caused by farming, or new-builds. However there are things we can all do in our own gardens, which will help.
Here are some steps everyone can take, whether you have a large or a small garden or patio area.
1. If you have a fence around your garden/patio, make a 5in hole through which the hedgehogs in neighbouring gardens can squeeze. This will ensure that hedgehogs can meet (to breed!), and that they have access to a large territory to forage for food and shelter. Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km a night and, if your garden is sealed in like Fort Knox, they can not visit you.
2. Put out clean water at night; hedgehogs struggle to find water sources which are safe, and will die from dehydration very quickly.
3. Leave a saucer of cat food or dry cat/dog biscuits on your patio, but avoid putting out milk or fish products as these are harmful for them.
4. Avoid using slug pellets/pesticides; hedgehogs are the natural solution to a slug problem. Encourage them to visit your garden, and you will have no need to buy these harmful products.
5. If you see a live hedgehog in daylight hours, get it to a vet quickly, as this indicates the animal is very sick and requires urgent treatment.
6. Join the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk –and get involved in their project called Hedgehog Street www.hedgehogstreet.org/, in which you can report sightings in your own garden. This helps to monitor the decline/increase of the local population, which can be vitally important to ensuring their survival.