New figures from an RSPB citizen science survey showed that only a quarter of respondents now see hedgehogs in their garden at least once a month. This is three percentage points lower than in 2014. The number of people who have never seen a hedgehog in their garden rose to 24% since 2014.
The UK’s hedgehog population has shown significant declines since the 1950s, with numbers now thought to be less than 1 million, compared to more than 30 million in the 1950s. One third of this loss is thought to have occurred in the last 10 years. The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report in 2015 revealed that rural hedgehog populations had declined by more than half since 2000 whilst urban populations had seen declines of up to a third.
The reasons for this decline are poorly understood but are largely attributed to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat in towns and countryside across the UK. Road deaths and loss of nesting and foraging habitat to intensive farming are also thought to be affecting hedgehogs. Rising numbers of badgers has also been a suggested cause of the hedgehog decline but there is little consensus as to the primary cause.
But the good news is that we can all do something to give hedgehogs a helping hand. Something as simple as cutting a hedgehog sized hole at the bottom of your garden fence can make a big difference as it links up otherwise fragmented habitat. During dry or cold periods you can put out a shallow dish of water and some supplementary food for hedgehogs, they will relish anything containing meat-based dog or cat food, unsalted chopped peanuts, sunflower hearts or dried meal worms. Installing log piles, leaf piles and compost heaps is also highly beneficial for hedgehogs as it provides them with safe hibernation spaces and year-round supplies of insects and slugs for them to eat.
Sources: State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2015; The Guardian, 2016