It is estimated that from 2000 to 2018, the population of British Hedgehogs decreased by a third. This estimate was made by multiple wildlife organisations such as the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and published in a report detailing the state of Hedgehogs in the UK. This decline in numbers in the countryside is the result of an increase in intensive farming, which leads to the reduction in suitable areas for hedgehog habitats. Larger fields for crops with little variation reduce the quality of soil and prevent the growth of shrubs surrounding the area. Therefore, hedgehogs have very little shelter and struggle to find nesting sites. Furthermore, due to the reduced quality of the soil, fewer worms and larvae frequent the area, meaning a large proportion of the hedgehogs’ diet has become scarce. 


In cities, the destruction of open green spaces has lead to a decline in hedgehog numbers, as well as making them more vulnerable to better-adjusted predators such as badgers and foxes. The increasing number of roads across the UK have also played a significant role, especially in remote areas where there are high speed limits and poor lighting. The 2018 Report published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimate that every year, around 100,000 are killed on these rural roads.


Locally, there have been attempts to raise awareness about the decline in hedgehogs as well as attempts to help this dwindling species. Many fences and gates have been installed with signs and special holes to give the hedgehogs alternative routes to the dangerous roads. Charlotte McGowan, a resident in Barnes, has made continuous efforts to do so by ensuring her garden is a safe environment. She describes having hedgehogs in residence as 'being similar to having fairies at the bottom of the garden’. In her garden, she creates boxes of hedgehog food - a special type of feed containing various small insects and fruit. Her advice is to use an upturned cardboard box with a small flap, similar to a cat flap, to prevent other animals from eating the food. Furthermore, she explained that the best way to help hedgehogs is to keep a ‘natural garden’. This means avoiding slug pellets and not using artificial grass, as well as keeping small piles of leaves from autumn to give hedgehogs resources to construct a place to hibernate. As well as that, McGowan explained that fences have a negative effect because they replace hedges between gardens. Because there are fewer hedges, hedgehogs find it harder to find a suitable mate, meaning they are forced to breed with their siblings and, as a consequence, have weak children.


As well as that, she discussed the effect of bonfire night on hedgehogs, saying ‘they often hibernate at the bottom of bonfires’. The hedgehogs mistake the piles of kindling for dry bushes, and therefore use leaves to create hibernation spaces inside the bonfire stacks. Since their sleep is so deep during hibernation, hedgehogs often don’t notice the kindling burning, and while some burn to death in their sleep, others wake up too late and escape without any spines. McGowan explained that spines are similar to hair and nails since they’re made of cartilage, meaning the spines are highly flammable. As a result, even hedgehogs who escape the bonfires with their lives often die almost immediately after since they have no energy to build a new habitat to hibernate in and no spines to protect them from predators. Halloween can also have a negative effect on the hedgehog population. While other wildlife thrive on discarded pumpkins, hedgehogs become sick after eating them, and are therefore vulnerable to attack. Dogs and foxes will attack hedgehogs if the hedgehogs are sick or dehydrated. McGowan suggests that when feeding wildlife with the pumpkins, put them on elevated places where hedgehogs can’t reach them.


By ensuring hedgehogs have safe areas to mate and hibernate, as well as giving them a reliable and healthy food source, we can save hedgehogs from extinction and preserve UK wildlife. Check bonfires before lighting them, let your gardens grow and spread awareness before it is too late.


By Eleanor Macklow-Smith