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Hedgehog numbers plummeting in British countryside

The number of hedgehogs present in the British countryside has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years – but appears to have stabilised in towns and cities, according to a new study.

Data from 1981 to 2020 – analysed for the latest State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report – shows that the spiky creatures have undergone long historic declines, but perhaps none as severe as what is currently being seen.

The review, which was conducted by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), drew on a number of surveys carried out in both settings.

These include citizen science recording schemes, animal road casualty records, and reports of accidental kills by gamekeepers, the conservation charities note.

In the report, there is a warning that between 30 per cent and 75 per cent of the population of hedgehogs has been lost in rural areas in the last two decades, with declines varying between regions and the largest falls in the eastern half of England.

But in urban areas, the picture is of a stable population that might be recovering – albeit from a low baseline after a long period of decline.

While the first State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report, published in 2011, estimated that a quarter of the animal’s population in urban areas had been lost in the first decade of the century, the latest data shows no evidence that the decline has continued.

Fay Vass, the chief executive of BHPS, said hedgehogs are facing “myriad pressures which are causing populations to plummet, particularly in the rural landscape”.

“The reasons for their decline are complex and aren’t yet fully understood, but two of the main pressures hedgehogs face in both rural and urban areas is lack of suitable habitat and habitat fragmentation.”

Nida Al-Fulaij, PTES’ conservation research manager, and one of the report’s authors, said the charity is “really alarmed” at what is happening in the countryside – adding it wants to work with farmers to make landscapes more hedgehog-friendly.

“If you picture a landscape, the greater mosaic of different habitats and varied features, and varied species within those features, the better it is not just for hedgehogs but for everything,” she said.

Getting hedgerows – the habitat that gives hedgehogs their name – into good condition would help, providing more and thicker hedges for food and cover, with different species such as broadleaf trees for leaves they can nest in, Ms Al-Fulaij said.

Hedgehogs will also benefit from field margins that are not sprayed so there is a supply of food such as slugs, caterpillars and bugs.

“The crucial thing will be to make this habitat to increase the food availability and nesting and forage availability across the landscape,” Ms Al-Fulaij added.

As part of a push to encourage homeowners to make their gardens more hedgehog-friendly, the wildlife charity is also asking people to reconsider artificial gardens.

“Don’t Astroturf your garden,” Ms Al-Fulaij insisted. “If you can make some rough and wild areas as hedgehog-friendly as possible, then that’s great.”

Additional reporting by PA

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