A new initiative will be launched later this week in a bid to slow and possibly halt the decline of one of the UK’s most endangered indigenous species – the hedgehog.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) will unveil an interactive map, allowing people to register sightings of the spiky-backed mammals and also enlist to become a ‘hedgehog champion’.
The move follows recent news that, despite previous attempts to highlight the issue, Britain’s hedgehog population has fallen dramatically, from around 35 million in the 1950s to under one million today. Numbers are so low the species is on the verge of being declared officially ‘endangered’.
Vicky Greenwood, 43, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, knows more than most about the issues affecting hedgehogs.
She runs Oggles Rescue Centre and currently has around 100 hedgehogs in her care.
“I try not to say ‘no’ to taking in hedgehogs. Obviously, I cannot save them all but I am glad I can do what I can for some of them at least.
“In my own way, I’m making a difference.
“The satisfaction is when you see them going back to the wild.
“Everyone is busy looking after themselves at the moment, they forget how lucky we are to have wildlife visiting us, it’s a privilege not a pest.
“It amazes me when I go into schools to give talks and 10 and 12-year-olds have never seen a hedgehog – even some 16-year-olds have never seen one before. I remember when I was a kid, we’d see them all the time. Now, the only ones you see are dead ones.”
The 2011 State of Britain’s Mammals study was commissioned by the animal charity the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to provide an overview of research by wildlife and conservation experts across the UK. It found the UK’s hedgehog population had fallen to below one million for the first time.
This week the BHPS launched a new drive to make home owners and members of the public more aware of the plight of the mammals, with an interactive website-based map –hedgehogstreet.org.
The site includes top tips to help hedgehogs, including some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and creating favourable habitats and ‘bridges’ or ‘gaps’ in walls, fences and hedges, to allow the creatures to wander around.
Ms Greenwood, who spends at least £100 a week on cat food alone – which forms the staple diet for most of the hedgehogs she takes in – has a menagerie of animals at her house, including nine domesticated cats, two feral cats she has recently taken in, a ferret her partner Steve found abandoned outside Dewsbury Hospital, around a dozen chickens and rabbits and in the past she has also rescued gerbils, which someone left in a cage next to her car one night, and a cockatiel.
She said: “I try not to think about how much we spend on cat food and all the other stuff. We survive on donations and online auctions. Ideally, we would like to build an extension out the back or just move house. I always live in the hope that one day we will win the lottery but in the meantime we have to utilise what we have got.”
Fay Vass, chief executive of the BHPS, offered some advice on how to help hedgehogs. She said: “Make sure hedgehogs have access in and out of your garden, a five inch square gap will open up a hedgehog highway that us humans have blocked with fences or walls. Hedgehog travel up to a mile in a night so need access to plenty of gardens. Try not to use pesticides and make sure they have a way to climb out of ponds. Keeping an area of your garden wild will also help.”
Dispelling one myth, she added hedgehogs were allergic to milk and bread.