Hedgehog Awareness Week 2021

We are just coming to the end of this year’s Hedgehog Awareness Week (2nd – 8th May 2021) which is founded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and “aims to raise the profile of Britain’s only spiny mammal.” 

First of all, here are some hedgehog facts for you:

  1. Hedgehogs can roam an area of 5km when searching for a mate.
  2. When disturbed or feeling threatened a hedgehog can make a hissing noise, as well as curling into a ball.
  3. The lifespan of a hedgehog is around 7 years.
  4. Their natural diet can consist of caterpillars, beetles, earwigs, slugs, earthworms, leatherjackets, carrion and fallen fruit.
  5. They are immune to some poisonous plants and after eating them, they can make a frothy saliva which they spread all over their spikes.  This is believed to keep their scent hidden from predators or deter predators should they try and eat them!
Hedgehog on grass (The Wildlife Trusts)

Hedgehog Decline

There has never been a more important time to raise awareness of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) than now!  Although they may be frequent visitors in some gardens, hedgehog numbers have fallen dramatically.  In 1995 there were estimated to be 1.5 million hedgehogs in the UK.  Today there are less than 500,000.  In the last 10 years alone, they have declined by around 30% here in the UK.  Due to this sudden drop in numbers, in 2020 hedgehogs were officially classed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.  If this trend continues it is predicted that hedgehogs will be extinct in the UK by 2025! We have 4 years to reverse their decline and conserve this unique native species.  Every golf club or garden owner can act now to make sure hedgehogs are still here for future generations to see snuffling around our lawns at night. 

Hedgehog foraging in leaf litter (British Hedgehog Preservation Society)

Why have Hedgehogs Declined?

There aren’t yet any confirmed reasons why hedgehogs have declined, but many possible reasons have been suggested from scientist and wildlife organisations.  It is important to note that rural hedgehogs are under different pressures to urban hedgehogs.  Intensification of farming is often listed as the main reason for the decline of rural hedgehogs.  The removal of hedgerows to increase farmland area reduces the number of safe ‘wildlife corridors’ that hedgehogs can travel along.  If remaining hedgerows are flailed this causes them to have more gaps at the base, making them much less ideal for hedgehogs to nest in.  Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers can poison hedgehogs and reduce numbers of invertebrates, which are a key food source for hedgehogs. 

In urban areas, hedgehogs are threatened by habitat fragmentation as the number of housing developments increase, with many new developments often lacking access points for hedgehogs, reducing connectivity.  Many people like to have tidy gardens and remove any overgrown areas or dead wood piles, which act as vital shelters for hedgehogs and many other wildlife species.  Some gardens are being lost all together by people replacing lawns with decking, driveways, or artificial grass, which significantly reduces foraging areas.

Hedgehog walking across lawn (New Scientist)

How you can help

Despite the number of anthropogenic threats that hedgehogs are facing, there are many ways that we can all help them, whether you work on a golf course or are lucky enough to have your own garden.  It is important that we make the remaining land in the UK suitable, safe, and accessible for hedgehogs to forage and nest.

Here are 8 ways that you can help hedgehogs:

  1. Provide a shallow dish of fresh water.  (Despite what many people think, milk is NOT good for hedgehogs. They may drink it when they are thirsty, but they are in fact lactose intolerant, so it upsets their digestive system and often kills them.)
  2. Provide hedgehog-friendly food. Hedgehogs can be fed meaty dog or cat food, or crushed up cat biscuits.  You can also buy ‘Hedgehog food’, Lancashire wildlife trust recommend Spike’s Hedgehog food. 
  3. Provide ‘Hedgehog Highways’.  Leave a small gap or cut a hole in the bottom of fences to allow hedgehogs to move freely between different habitats.  The Woodland Trust recommends the hole should be roughly the size of a CD.
  4. Remove hazards.  Make sure to keep your garden or golf course free of litter to avoid hedgehogs and other wildlife getting caught in it.  Keep any netting tucked up, whether you have a football net in your garden or any sort of netting on your golf course, make sure it is not going to be a hazard for hedgehogs. If you have a pond in your garden or water hazard on your golf course, make sure to add a ramp so any hedgehogs can drink from it, but easily get out if they fall in.  Hedgehogs are fairly strong swimmers, but it is hard for them to climb out of water with steep bankings.  Cattle grids and drains can also become death traps for hedgehogs.  Check cattle grids every day and provide a ramp for any hedgehogs that fall in.  Cover drains to avoid hedgehogs or hoglets from falling down them.  Always check for hedgehogs in bonfires or any other piles of vegetation that are going to be burnt.
  5. Provide a hedgehog home. You can buy these or make one yourself.  They provide shelter in winter and nesting sites for mother and hoglets (baby hedgehogs) in June and July.  A log pile also works well as a form of shelter, just make sure it is not moved or burnt.  The Hedgehog Preservation Society has some really helpful information on how to build a hedgehog house here: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/hedgehog-homes/.
  6. Be aware when using machinery. Check long grass (such as the rough on a golf course) and shrubs before mowing or strimming.  Hedgehogs don’t have a fight or flight response, the only defence they have is to curl up into a ball, tuck away their head and limbs and become a ball of spikes (also known as quills), which can deter predators.  This does not stop them getting injured or killed by machinery though and many are brought into rescue centres with strimming or mowing injuries.  If you use a robotic lawnmower, don’t leave it on overnight to avoid it bumping into or injuring hedgehogs.  Hedgehog-friendly lawnmowers are currently being researched. Check for hedgehogs, or any other low-lying wildlife e.g. baby birds or amphibians before mowing.
  7. Let your garden or golf course be more natural.  We are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction.  Biodiversity all around the world is declining.  Wildlife needs gardens or land to be wild much more than people need it to be manicured and tidy.  Thousands of wildlife species can thrive in areas of scrub, rough vegetation, un-mown areas of grassland and dead wood piles.  There are many areas on golf courses that can be left to ‘grow wild’ too and the ecologists at STRI are more than happy to advise on which areas can be made more wildlife-friendly whilst maintaining an aesthetically pleasing course with good playability.  If you can, why not take part in No Mow May? By not mowing your lawn throughout May, you will be allowing grass and wildflower species to grow, and this will increase fauna biodiversity.
  8. Avoid harmful chemicals.  The more non-natural chemicals you use in your garden or on your golf course, the more harm you are doing to the biodiversity and surrounding environment.  Before you use a chemical think about the harm it will cause and if it is necessary.  Look for natural alternatives to slug pellets too, such as copper tape, beer traps or sharp sand.
Hedgehog with Hoglets (DW)

I saw many hedgehogs last year, but they weren’t roaming around outside living their best lives. They were in a hedgehog rescue centre that I was volunteering at.  Many had been injured by strimmers or lawnmowers, some had been run over and others had heavy parasite burdens. There are so many threats to hedgehogs, it is amazing they are still existing at all.  However, unless action is taken now, we are unlikely to be seeing these delightful mammals for much longer. I’d love to know if you have ever seen a hedgehog or taken steps to conserve them in your garden or on the golf course!

Meg Stone