Top three animals: go.
Well obviously dogs and cats, in whatever order, are the top two, the internet ruled on that a long time ago. Then what? Well, probably the giraffe, the best of all the ‘proper’ animals would be third. But then after that, what then?
Then, I would humbly suggest, comes the hedgehog.
What a brilliant animal. It’s ridiculously cute, it has a load of spikes so it can be a hard bastard when it needs to be, yet it has a lovely soft underbelly too. It can curl itself into a ball and roll away from danger, it’s surprisingly quick on its feet when it needs to be and - best of all - they have some natural immunity to snake venom. That’s right, a hedgehog could probably have a snake in a fight. What a little legend.
However, one foe it can’t seem to shake off is the classic ‘enemy of the animals’: man.
A new survey conducted by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has sadly found that the species is in ‘severe decline’ across the UK, with the number of hedgehogs living in the British countryside falling by more than a half since 2000.
It is believed that there are only a million left, a 97% drop since the glory days of the 1950s when there were an estimated 30 million roaming free.
What’s caused this?
The fall in numbers has been attributed to the intensification of agriculture, the loss of the hedgerows which gave them their name and housed the invertebrates which they prey on, and the ongoing use of pesticides. Basically, these days, in the countryside, it’s a tough old life for a hedgehog.
What can we do about it?
The good news is that it’s not over for the hedgehog. A glimmer of hope lies in the fact that losses in towns and cities have slowed, and the numbers found in gardens may well be increasing. Records of hedgehogs in gardens have been collected since 2003 and show a fall of a third in the number of sites where they’ve been spotted; however, in the sites where they are still found, their numbers have risen in the last three years.
Therefore, if you want to help hedgehogs, it’s all about making your garden hedgehog-friendly.
How do I do that then?
The most important thing to ensure that you have small holes in your fences, no larger than a CD (kids, that’s slightly larger than a fidget spinner), in order that hedgehogs can have space to roam across several gardens. A single hedgehog will move around 1-2km every night searching for food, over an area of around 10 hectares. See, I told you they could really move.
Hedgehog Street explains: “No single garden is large enough for a hedgehog population, and no single garden can offer everything they need. Think of your garden as part of a local network.”
They also recommend having log piles, which provide a safe and secure place for breeding or hibernating and also help produce insects, which the animals can feast on.
They advise you to: “Collect any old dead wood from your garden or ask the local park or wildlife reserve for permission to take some from their supply and pile it up in a quiet undisturbed corner of your garden. The bigger you can make it the better. As the wood rots down, replenish the logs from time to time.”
Compost heaps are also useful, since they “can make an attractive nesting site for a hedgehog. Open air composting is also great for creepy crawlies (aka hedgehog food). Remember to be careful when turning them with your fork.”
Leaf piles “can be used as a potential nesting site but they can also be used for bedding material for any other nest sites or hedgehog boxes in the surrounding area. Please be careful when tidying leaf piles as there may be a hog in residence!”
It might go against your instincts, but leave one corner of your garden in a bit of a mess. Hedgehog Street explains: “Most gardeners have a big tidy once or twice a year, often in spring or at the end of the growing season. This can remove nesting or hibernation sites for hedgehogs, and reduces the amount of insects in the garden. Grasshoppers, for example, need standing vegetation in which to overwinter in. Pick a corner of your garden and leave it to go a bit mad – it can have native or non-native planting. The key is just to leave it untrimmed. You can do it!”
And for those of you with lots of room to play with, you can even consider wildflower patches, ponds and specially made hedgehog houses - you can read more here.
What else can I do to help?
(Images: Piotr Laskawski/George Kendall)