It doesn’t seem all that long ago that, driving around the countryside as we have been doing recently, you would have seen small hedgehog corpses squashed on the road every few miles. Not any more. Alas, this doesn’t mean that evolution has brought about a new generation of hedgehogs with road sense: instead it signals the serious decline of the Nation’s favourite wild mammal. The more road deaths, the bigger the overall population and, sadly, vice versa.
Recent researches funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) have shown that the decline is most serious in the countryside. The destruction of hedgehogs’ preferred habitat, hedgerows and pasture, and pesticides killing their invertebrate prey have contributed to this. Now gardens provide hedgehogs with their best hope of survival – and we can all help.
Together with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the PTES has a new project – Hedgehog Street – encouraging people to get together with their neighbours to create more hedgehog-friendly environments. This entails leaving some wilder, bushy corners for cover and, perhaps, a small heap or two of fallen leaves for nesting material. But, there is something else. One of the lesser known facts about hedgehog life-style is that they actually need quite a wide area to forage in. They’re not strictly territorial, like badgers and otters, marking and defending a territory, but they do wander over a considerable distance each night as they cast about, gobbling up the slugs and snails we gardeners are so happy to get rid of. It’s difficult to track a hedgehog’s nocturnal movements but it’s estimated that a male’s range covers 20-30 hectares, and he might easily trundle 3k. in a single night. Few of us have gardens this size! It’s clear, therefore, that each animal needs access to several gardens, in fact ACCESS is the key word here. Modern fencing tends to make a garden into a hedgehog prison. All we need to do is ensure that small hedgehog-sized gaps at ground level are left here and there – the hogs will soon find them. The more neighbouring gardens are interlinked in this way, the larger the available territory. Simple, really.
This is the time of maximum hedgehog numbers as the young from second litters join the adults in the serious business of eating – of putting on enough weight to ensure successful hibernation. A good time to help.