Guest article from School of Anthropology and Conservation student Katie Hargrave-Smith
What’s happening with the Hedgehogs?
The hedgehog, or the Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) to be specific, is a national treasure for us in Britain. We have few wild charismatic mammals as we hunted many to extinction, or caused mass habitat loss. The hedgehog is Britain’s only spiny mammal, and once upon a time people were almost guaranteed to see a hedgehog in their garden in summer. Unfortunately, the hedgehog population has declined by up to 50% since 2000, and are now vulnerable to extinction.
This is largely due to human action. As we continue to change how we use land , we encroach on hedgehog habitat, and by walling our gardens have removed vital remaining habitat from them. They also create nests at ground level, so are vulnerable to grounds management. Furthermore, the defence mechanism of hedgehogs is to curl up into a ball, as their spines fend off predators trying to eat them. However, this defence mechanism is not so effective against humans, as cars often don’t think to drive slowly on roads where hedgehogs could be, or to check bonfires where the hogs might be nesting. And finally, there is not enough consideration given to hedgehogs when people decide to put out slug repellent or rat killer, and hedgehogs are often the unfortunate victim.
What can you do to help?
There are a number of things that everyone can do to help hedgehogs; some simply take seconds, while others require a small amount of effort (but it’s worth it to help protect this wonderful creature!) We have used ideas from both the British Hedgehog Preservation society and Hedgehog Street. Here are 10 things you can do, in order of ease:
If you ever see a hedgehog, even if it has sadly died, it is incredibly important, and easy, to log it to the Big Hedgehog Map. This allows conservationists to follow hedgehog populations. It also helps highlight areas for action, such as on a road where hedgehogs are often being killed, a sign can be put up to warn people to drive carefully at night and be aware of hedgehogs. The map also allows you to backlog sightings, so if you saw a hedgehog a year ago and remember where, you can log it!
2) Don’t litter
Although this one goes without saying, sometimes it is important to say it. Hedgehogs can easily get caught in litter and can also use it in their nests thinking its foliage. Why not make a point to pick up litter when you go out, and tell your friends/family why? Spreading awareness is always helpful.
3) Check before you mow or strim
Always make a point to check for hedgehogs before you mow the lawn or do any strimming. If it’s not you who does these activities, make sure to mention it if you know someone else is about to.
4) Make sure bonfires are hog-safe
Hedgehogs see logs stacked up and think of it as an ideal nesting spot, unaware of the danger of bonfires. As hedgehogs curl up when threatened, they sadly do not escape the flames. If you or someone you know is building a bonfire, make sure they know to either build it the day of the bonfire, or to move it the day of, as hedgehogs find nests at night. If you know that a public bonfire night is being organised (such as the annual Bonfire Night), why not contact the organisers to make sure they are being hedgehog safe?
5) Stop using chemicals
Worms, beetles and other invertebrates make a tasty meal for hedgehogs, and repellents, insecticides and pesticides are all toxic for hedgehogs. These chemicals shouldn’t be necessary in a well-managed garden, but if you feel you have to use them, why not search for a hog-safe repellent? Such alternatives could include using coffee grounds, wool pellets, or slug tape (and there are more!)
6) Put out food and water
Why not put out some food and water for hedgehogs to enjoy? They eat hedgehog food (the brands Spikes and Brambles are the only Hedgehog Friendly Campus approved brands), and meaty cat and dog food. Putting out a water dish is especially important for hedgehogs during dry spells. However, please don’t put out your pumpkin this halloween, it’s bad for hedgehogs!
7) Call for help if you see a hedgehog during the day
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so if you see one during the day it is probably unwell. If it seems like it is going somewhere with intention, or it is carrying leaves in it’s mouth for its nest, it could be okay, but if unsure call a local rescue service for advice.
8) Create a wild corner
If you have a garden, why not allow a corner to grow naturally? They love brambles, hawthorn, wildflowers, and nettles! This will create a great habitat for hedgehogs, from nesting areas and foliage, as well as lots of prey for them to eat! You can add branches to create structure.
9) Make your pond hedgehog safe
Hedgehogs can swim! However, they cannot climb out of steep verges, so unless your pond has a bank, why not add a ramp to allow hedgehogs to climb out so that they don’t drown? You can add a ramp using wood, rocks or chicken mesh. Also, make sure that the water levels stay topped up.
10) Link up your garden
Making sure there is a hedgehog sized hole in your fence allows the hedgehog to roam between gardens. A 13x13cm (5×5”) hole will allow a hedgehog through, but not most pets. Make sure you speak to your neighbours if you share the fence and use this as an opportunity to share what you know about hedgehogs! You might inspire them to make other holes in their fences and make their garden more hedgehog friendly.
What we are doing to make our campus hedgehog friendly
The University of Kent became part of the Hedgehog Friendly Campus scheme in 2019, and members of the university recently undertook a survey to find out if there are hedgehogs present on campus. Ten tunnels were strategically placed around campus in which any small animals could walk through, over a strip of non-toxic ink and leave footprints on the other side.
As well as this, the university carries out regular litter picks around campus, including the woods on the site, and the Landscape and Grounds management team have had sessions to educate them on what to do if they find an injured hedgehog, how to check for them if they are about to strim and what risks there may be on campus for resident hedgehogs. Thanks to these efforts, the University of Kent has been awarded the Bronze award by the Hedgehog Friendly Campus Scheme and is looking to work towards the silver award.
If you’d like to get involved, please email Emily Mason from the Sustainability Team at firstname.lastname@example.org