Press Release from People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)
Neighbourhood watch scheme launched as wildlife charities challenge a prickly problem: the decline of UK hedgehogs
Hedgehogs are instantly recognisable and much loved creatures. All the more distressing then that a new report (The State of Britain's Hedgehogs) provides definitive evidence that their numbers have declined by at least a quarter in the last 10 years - confirming their status as a conservation priority species. This alarming figure has compelled wildlife charities: the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to join forces to launch Hedgehog Street. This initiative aims to empower whole communities, encouraged by volunteer Hedgehog Champions, to take small steps to improve their neighbourhood for hedgehogs in a bid to create a giant patchwork of hedgehog-friendly areas across the British Isles.
As PTES Conservation Officer and campaign organiser Laura Bower explains: "Twentythree million households have access to a garden in the UK covering around 433,000 hectares. Reaching a modest 0.1% of these could lead to the creation of a hedgehog refuge larger than the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve. We are looking for enthusiastic volunteers to become hedgehog champions in their local area. We will help them encourage their neighbours to take action for hedgehogs in their gardens or communal green spaces." Last autumn PTES and BHPS enlisted the help of 15 volunteers as local champions to trial Hedgehog Street around the country. Since then, these first recruits have been encouraging their friends and neighbours to undertake simple conservation tasks such as creating hedgehog houses, as well as keeping diaries, taking pictures and hosting events to see how best to spread the word and build community involvement. Having fine-tuned the logistics involved, the campaign is now set to be rolled out nationwide, but it needs plenty of people power if it is to truly make a difference. Why are hedgehog numbers plummeting in the UK?
The reasons for the decline in UK hedgehog numbers are complex, but are thought to be associated with the loss of hedgerows and permanent grasslands; the intensification of agriculture and larger field sizes; while the use of pesticide reduces the amount of prey available in the countryside. Also badgers are a natural predator of hedgehogs and they will actively avoid sites where badgers are present in large numbers, an increasing problem because there are fewer areas for hedgehogs to take refuge in. Urban and suburban areas are becoming increasingly important for hedgehogs, but the move towards tidy, sterile gardens has also contributed to their demise.
As Fay Vass, CEO of BHPS elaborates: "Gardens have become far too tidy in recent years, paved over for parking, or enclosed within impenetrable fences and walls. Hedgehogs typically travel about a mile each night in order to gather food and search for a mate, so they need the freedom to move between different areas. Artificial barriers such as solid fences and walls prevent movement around their home range. Furthermore, loss of natural habitat means there is nowhere for them to forage or hibernate. Relatively simple actions will ensure success for the survival of these increasingly threatened creatures." In the early part of the last century, hedgehogs were abundant throughout Britain, with an estimated population as high as perhaps 30 million in the 1950s. By 1995 it was estimated to be about 1.5 million (1.1 million in England, 0.31 million in Scotland and 0.145 million in Wales). The new report shows that recent surveys in urban and rural areas still indicate falling numbers of hedgehogs."Hedgehogs are also important because their presence indicates a healthy landscape with lots of ground-dwelling invertebrates and varied land habitat features, such as hedges and copses", continues Laura Bower. "So the good news is that whatever we do to encourage hedgehogs will also benefit other wildlife species."
How can people help?
The short answer is by taking part in Hedgehog Street and generating a groundswell of support amongst the neighbours in your street, estate or communal grounds. Information packs about how to take part are available from the website and these are crammed with ideas on making your own garden and neighbourhood more hedgehog-friendly.
The wider campaign is also underpinned by a programme of practical research projects, funded by PTES and BHPS over the next three years, to further scientific understanding about the causes for the decline in hedgehog numbers and most importantly what can be done to reverse this threat to this iconic species.
Additional support for Hedgehog Street has been provided by the BBC Wildlife Fund.
About PTES - www.ptes.org