We know our hedgehogs are in trouble with numbers across the UK in sharp decline. This year’s State of Britain's Hedgehogs report confirms that. But it also shows some good news for hedgehogs. In our towns and cities, hedgehog numbers are no longer falling and may finally be on the increase. And that’s down to the love and care given by all those people who help hedgehogs in the garden.
Why are Hedgehog In Trouble?
The UK is now one of the most wildlife depleted countries in the world. The things that cause problems for our hedgehogs are causing problems for all of our wildlife.
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% of the total population. The problem is worse in the countryside where speed limits are higher and roads are less well lit at night. Roadkill 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.
How Many Hedgehogs Are There In the UK?
The first question many people ask when they see a new conservation report is “How Many Hedgehogs?”
Lots of figures have been quoted over the years: more than 30 million hedgehogs in the UK in the 1950s and less than 2 million by the year 2,000 were two popular quotes. The truth is it’s very difficult to be anything like accurate for a total population number, and there are good reasons for this:
- Hedgehogs are nocturnal, out in the dark when it’s difficult to see them, asleep during the day when it would be easier.
- They are small, shy and secretive, moving around mainly in hedgerows and undergrowth, making hedgehog-spotting even more difficult.
- They hibernate for a good part of the year, meaning they are not around to count at all.
The most recent estimate of total population numbers is from the Mammal Society, which estimates that in 2018 we had 879.000 hedgehogs here in the UK.
Numbers Are Changing
It’s difficult to put a total number on the UK hedgehog population. It is possible to look at trends: how the number of hedgehogs recorded each year in the same place using the same methods changes from year to year.
There are lots of ways we can do this:
- Repeated scientific studies
- Citizen Science, like Hedgehog Streets Big Hedgehog Map and The RSPB Big Garden BirdWatch.
- Road casualty Records, sadly fewer hedgehogs killed on the roads doesn’t mean hedgehogs are learning about road safety, it just means there are fewer hedgehogs.
- Game Bag Records – records of hedgehogs accidentally caught by gamekeepers.
All the measures are looked at in the new report and they show us that hedgehog numbers are changing.
The trend for rural hedgehogs is still falling numbers and sadly still falling fast. Over the last 20 years it is estimated that numbers of rural hedgehogs have fallen by between 33% and 75% in different areas of the UK. This latest report shows no change in that trend.
It’s this decline that has led to hedgehogs in the UK being added to the Red List of creatures in danger of extinction in 2020.
This latest report finally shows some good news though, and the good news is for our urban hedgehogs, living in parks, gardens and green spaces in our villages, towns and cities.
The 2018 report showed urban hedgehog urban numbers dropping less quickly than previously.
The 2022 report shows that the urban hedgehog population is stable and may finally be starting to increase.
This is fantastic news!
It is yet more evidence of how important our gardens are as havens for wildlife and it’s the start of another great backyard conservation success story.
This news comes as a big pat on the back to everyone who helps hedgehogs in their garden and should encourage more people to do the same.
It’s more evidence of how important our gardens are becoming in the fight to save British wildlife.
So, how exactly can we help hedgehogs?
10 Steps to Helping Hedgehogs In Your Garden
- Make a Hedgehog Highway – that’s a hole in your fence to let them get in and out.
- Make your pond wildlife safe by providing a ramp or beach as an escape route.
- Let a corner of the garden get wild to give cover and food for hedgehogs.
- Secure garden netting and clear up litter – spiky hedgehogs get tangled and stuck very easily.
- Put out food and water – hedgehogs struggle to find enough to eat.
- Get a hedgehog house for nesting, hibernating and safe feeding.
- Stop using chemicals – bad news for all wildlife.
- Check before strimming – hedgehogs love to nap in long grass during the summer months.
- Beware of bonfires – bonfires make great nesting sites, so do compost heaps.
- Report your hogs! The more we know about where our hedgehogs are, the better we can help them.
So, if you are one of the growing band of people who help hedgehogs in the garden, it’s time to give yourself a pat on the back. And if you’re not a fully signed up hog-lover yet, now is a perfect time to get started.