How Many Hedgehogs In the UK? Recent studies suggest that there may be as few as one million hedgehogs left in the UK. Numbers have fallen by 50% in the last 10 years and possibly by as much as 97% since the 1950s. Conservationists are working hard to reverse the decline, And in our towns and cities that work may be starting to pay off.
This isn’t an easy question to answer.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, only out at night. They lend to live in undergrowth and hedges. And for half of the year they’re not around at all because they are hibernating.
So it’s not easy to count hedgehogs. But it’s important to try.
It’s important partly because they are one of the nation’s favourite mammals, and partly because they are generalists. This means they live in all sorts of places and can happily eat a huge range of things.
So changes in the hedgehog population can be a good indicator of the wellbeing of other wildlife species, that could be even more difficult to observe.
How Many Hedgehogs are There in The UK?
The most recent report from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society indicates that there may be as few as 1 million hogs left in the UK today.
1 million might sound like a big number. But actually it is a decrease of over 50% in the last 20 years.
And if you look back to early studies, in the 1950’s it could be that we have lost as much as 97% of our hedgehog population in the past 70 years.
As we’ve already seen, hedgehogs are difficult to count. So the estimate from the 1950’s could be an overestimate. There may never have been quite that many hedgehogs in the country.
The figures from Pat Morris’s study in 2000 though are thought to be pretty accurate. And the 2018 BHPS report is based on evidence from a number of different surveys, using different methods to count hogs. So this should be even more accurate.
And there can be no doubt that hedgehog numbers are in steep decline.
Why are Hedgehog Numbers Falling?
There are lots of reasons.
Mono-species farming. Huge fields, filled with just one crop as far as the eye can see may be very efficient. But they don’t support much insect life. That’s bad news if you are an insect-eating hedgehog.
Loss of Hedgerows. Field Margins and Copses. As fields have got bigger, hedgerows, small woods and ponds, and the scrubby areas around the edge of fields have disappeared. These were all hedgehog habitats providing food and nesting sites.
Pesticides in Town and Country. Pesticides kill insects and bugs, that’s what they are for. But hedgehogs eat insects and bugs. So pesticides are killing off their food sources. And when hedgehogs eat poisoned insects or slugs they may become ill themselves.
Road Kill. Over 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on our roads each year. This could be around 10% or the total population. The problem is worse in the countryside where speed limits are higher and roads are less well lit at night. Road kill is a serious and ongoing threat to the species.
New Roads and Building Development. New roads, railways like HS2, and housing and industrial developments break up hedgehog populations and can mean that there are not enough hogs in one area to breed effectively.
Increasingly Secure Fencing. Hedgehogs need to be able to roam about a mile each night to get the food they need. When gardens were divided by hedges and picket fences this used to be easy for them But as we become more security-conscious and our fences get more impenetrable hedgehogs can’t easily pass from one property to the next. So they are forced out on the roads which are very dangerous for them.
Is the Picture the Same All Over the Country?
Hedgehogs live in almost all areas of the UK. They can survive in a huge range of habitats, Though they don’t do well in heathland or thick forest.
But the story on hedgehog numbers is different in urban and rural areas.
According to the BHPS hedgehog numbers in rural areas are falling much more rapidly than they are in the towns.
Rural hedgehog numbers may have fallen by as much as 2 thirds over the past 20 years.
In urban and suburban areas there are fewer hedgehog locations reported. But numbers of hedgehogs at each location is actually increasing.
So, in the same way, that foxes are now thriving in our towns and cities, it looks like our gardens will be crucial for the future of hedgehogs.
What Can We Do to Help?
There is plenty that we can all do to help.
In the countryside the British Hedgehog Preservation Society is doing brilliant work with farmers and landowners to educate them on how to make their properties more hedgehog-friendly.
Britain leaving the EU could also be good news for hedgehogs. Farmers currently get funding from the EU for food production. When we leave the EU the plan is to switch the emphasis to funding for land-stewardship and encouraging biodiversity. This could have a major positive impact on rural hedgehogs.
In our towns and cities the Hedgehog Street Campaign, set up over 10 years ago, has worked to encourage the linking of gardens through a network of hedgehog highways. They also fund research, offer training and work with developers.
We can all help support our local hedgehog populations by:
- Making Hedgehog Highways.
- Offering extra food and water.
- Providing hedgehog houses as nesting boxes and feeding stations.
Conclusion: British Hedgehog Numbers are Falling, But It’s Not Too Late to Turn the Tide
Our hedgehog population is a fraction of what it used to be. We’ve lost over half our hogs in just the last 20 years.
But there is lots of work being done to preserve our hedgehogs. And in our towns and cities it looks like things might already be improving.
If you have a garden it’s easy and fun to do your bit to help Britain’s favourite mammal.
For more information on hedgehog numbers read the full BHPS report here.
And to get involved with helping hedgehogs in your area visit the Hedgehog Street website here.
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