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Hedgehog Ecology

Hedgehogs are omnivorous, nocturnal animals which are native to the UK and require a range of connected habitats to survive. Hedgehogs nest all year round, they produce loose, temporary nests during their active period and more robust nests during breeding and hibernation (PTES, 2019). Their nests can be found within long rough grassland, brash, leaf and log piles, woodlands, hedgerow, compost and bramble scrub. They generally feed on insects such as slugs, worms, and beetles but will also eat dog or cat food (dry or wet) if left out for them.

Hedgehogs generally hibernate between November and February, this will depend on the temperatures and availability of food, they may briefly emerge from hibernation during mild temperatures. Hedgehogs will replenish their fat stores during March and April with mating and breeding occurring between May-October. Hoglets are generally born between June and September and would have left the nest by October (PTES, 2019).

Hedgehogs have been reported as travelling up to 2km a night within urban environments and 3km in rural environments. They need large connected areas of habitat to travel in order to find a mate, food and nesting sites (PTES, 2019).

The declining population of hedgehogs

The population of hedgehogs has declined by a third since 2000 and even though hedgehogs do have some national and European protection under Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981, which prohibits killing and trapping by certain methods, and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and Appendix III of the ‘Bern’ Convention, hedgehogs are still at risk (State of Britain’s Hedgehog Report 2000).

Why are populations declining

Urban and rural hedgehog populations are both in decline but for different reasons:

Urban populations

  • Urban gardens are blocked off to hedgehogs they are unable get into or between gardens which fragments habitats and reduces their opportunity to forage over large areas
  • Tidy gardens – increased decking and paving, less grass and plant life (reduced invertebrates in garden and reduce nesting opportunities.
  • Ponds – (If deep and left open with no access route in and out they can be dangerous to Hedgehogs)
  • Regular strimming/grass cutting – disturbing and injuring nesting hedgehogs.
  • Slug Pellets (reducing food source for hedgehogs)

Rural Populations

  • Increase use of pesticides reducing food source
  • Land Use change – reduced amount of rural environment due to increased housing developments and fragmentation of habitats
  • Land management – Flailing

Habitat fragmentation, road traffic and refuse (plastic rubbish) are also reasons for the decline.

How can we help to reduce the decline?

As householders we can help in a variety of ways (PTES, 2019):

  • Hedgerow planting (native-species hedgerows)
  • Dig or create a small hole in fencing allowing hedgehogs access into your garden
  • Mosaic grass management within the garden providing areas of long and short grass for feeding and nesting.
  • Cut grass during the winter as hedgehogs are generally absent from long grass during the hibernation period.
  • Use a two stage vegetation cut. Cut at a high level to create disturbance, check for nests then cut down to ground level (if required).
  • Raise the height of blades on machines.
  • Management of bramble and hedgerow to be undertaken in autumn to avoid breeding and hibernation.
  • Avoid chemical pesticides and use alternative methods
  • Include entry and exit points to waterbodies (e.g., creating ramps out of logs and bricks) to avoid drowning.
  • If building a bonfire, relocate the bonfire material from its storage location to a new location on the day of burning slowly and by hand.
  • Put out food and water

 Developers can also help in a variety of ways (PTES, 2019):

If land to be developed supports hedgehog friendly habitat (e.g., dense scrub, hedgerows and boundary vegetation, long and short grass and areas of leaf litter (such as woodlands and parkland)), they should be considered during pre and post construction phases and the design phase of a project. 

Pre and during the construction phase

  • Caution should be taken when clearing the site of vegetation, if possible, vegetation should be cleared using hand tools only and in a two stage manner.
  • Creation of brash/log piles or installation of hedgehogs houses around the parameter of the site providing areas for nesting offsite.
  • Maintain a tidy site and contain chemicals within a secure designated area to avoid animals becoming trapped or ingesting litter/chemicals.
  • Ensure open pits/holes/ditches/drains are covered over or contain a ramp to ensure animals do not get injured or trapped.

Design and post construction phase

  • Include gaps underneath fencing or fence panels (13X13 cm hole) between houses to increase foraging and nesting opportunities.
  • Include an unkept area of habitat within the development for wildlife (e.g. log piles, scrub, wild grass and flower areas), this will encourage invertebrates to the site providing food and nesting habitat for hedgehogs.
  • Incorporate as much green space into the development as possible.
  • Maintain/create boundary features (e.g native-species hedgerows) to reduce habitat fragmentation and maintain a safe hedgehog highway through the development.
  • Create a suitable road underpass and install road signs alerting drivers to the presence of hedgehogs

Julie Player, Senior Ecologist

References

PTES, (2019). Hedgehog ecology and land management.

PTES, (2019). Hedgehogs and development

PTES, (2018). The state of Britain’s hedgehogs report