Threats to the Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are in trouble in the UK as reports come in that fewer hedgehogs are seen every year. Recent surveys show that hedgehog numbers
declined by approximately a third between 2002 and
2012 and sightings fell by 4 percent just in 2014. Rough estimates put the hedgehog population in England, Wales and Scotland at about one million, compared with 30 million in the 1950s.
In the past, gamekeepers killed hedgehogs because they ate the eggs of gamebirds. Today it is regarded as beneficial and is often called the gardener's friend as it eats large numbers of slugs, snails and other garden pests.
Although the hedgehog is in decline and receives some protection from the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is not officially a threatened species. Thousands of hedgehogs die every year for a variety of reasons, most of them caused by humans. Here are some hazards faced by hedgehogs:
- Road traffic; this is probably the biggest danger during the spring and summer. Since hedgehogs roll up when threatened with danger they are easily squashed by cars when trying to cross the road. As the numbers of cars increase, more and more hedgehogs are killed.
- Habitat loss; The growth in intensive farming since the 1940s has removed many of the hedges, woods and small fields in which hedgehogs thrive. The trend for tidy gardens and lots of decking and paving have also reduced the ‘messy’ habitats of mixed vegetation and fallen leaves that hedgehogs love.
- Chemicals; the use of garden chemicals such as insecticides and slug pellets is a threat. They reduce the natural food available. Also, tiny quantities of chemicals are present in slugs, beetles etc. and as hedgehogs may eat hundreds of these every month they can soon accumulate enough poison to affect their health.
- Drowning; if a hedgehog falls into a swimming pool or steep-sided pond, it often drowns because it cannot climb up the smooth sides. A strip of wire netting fixed to the side, or a pile of stones at the edge will let the hedgehog escape.
- Cattle grids; hedgehogs often fall through these and cannot climb out so they starve to death. Ramps or tunnels are now usually built inside the pit to let the hedgehog escape.
- Hibernation; more than half of all hedgehogs die during hibernation due to cold, fire, flood or someone wrecking their nest.