Suffolk's hedgehogs 'are in trouble'- here's how you can help save them
- Credit: Alan Baldry
Summer is well and truly on its way, and not only does that mean longer days and warmer weather – but our local hedgehogs will be out in full force.
The spiky mammal we all know and love enters it mating season around this time of year, and will be active until its hibernation season which begins in the autumn.
While hedgehogs are pottering about, we can all play our part and help ensure they have a happy and comfortable breeding season – but why is it so important to do so?
“Hedgehogs are really struggling,” explains Lucy Shepherd, wild learning officer at Suffolk Wildlife Trust. “They’re a declining species and are very much in trouble.”
While there are 17 species of hedgehogs across the globe, the one you'll spot here in Suffolk is the European hedgehog.
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And while numbers across the mainland are generally quite stable, in the UK hedgehog numbers have steadily been on the decline.
It is estimated around 30 per cent of hedgehogs have disappeared over the past 10 years – with around one million left in Britain.
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Possible reasons for their decline include lack of habitats due to intensive farming, road traffic accidents, and its main predator – the European badger.
“We had an Ipswich hedgehog project that ran a few years back, and we collected quite a lot of data to see how numbers were doing in the town. We know from our survey that we have a stronghold of hedgehogs in Ipswich, and we’ve got a good number of urban populations within the town, as well as on the outskirts.
“But it’s important to remember just because a certain town or location has a good number, which is positive, they are still a declining species overall and need our help,” says Lucy.
Not only are hedgehogs adorable, they’re also hugely important to our local environment.
“They contribute to our wider ecosystem, and could in fact be considered ‘the gardeners’ best friend’,” explains Lucy.
“Hedgehogs come into your garden and help out by eating slugs and snails, and some of the other creatures that you may not be so keen on having around your plants and crops.”
In addition, they are one of the few remaining native British species of mammals - something we should work hard to conserve.
“We have seen huge declines in our mammal species, and while hedgehogs are important in their own right, it would be such a shame to lose another British mammal.”
So what can you do to help the hedgehogs this summer?
“There are several things, and one of the biggest threats to hedgehogs is a lack of connectivity,” explains Lucy.
“Everyone is keen to have boundaries around their homes and green spaces, but this essentially means hedgehogs can’t travel between gardens. That ultimately reduces their foraging opportunities, chances of meeting other hedgehogs and finding safe breeding locations.”
It also means hedgehogs are more likely to travel near roads – one of their biggest threats.
One way to help overcome this though is to build a ‘hedgehog hole’ in your fence, wall or gate. This is simply a 13cm by 13cm hole that the creatures can travel through.
“If you can encourage your neighbours to do the same, you can create a ‘hedgehog highway’ so they can move freely and safely between spaces.”
As well as creating tunnels, gardeners can also help hedgehog populations by being a bit messier this summer.
“People are so keen to have neat, manicured gardens – but that’s wildlife’s worst nightmare. A patch in the corner of your garden with dead wood, logs and twigs, where hedgehogs can nest or find food such a beetles is a really good way to help them, and is quite an easy thing to do.”
Growing a patch of wildflowers will also help encourage caterpillars - one of the main food sources that hedgehogs forage for. “And of course, leaving out dishes of water helps them out on their nightly travels too,” adds Lucy.
“Leaving out supplementary food such as cat food is also helpful - it doesn’t have any effect on hedgehogs in terms of them becoming too reliant on humans, but make sure it’s meat-based and not fish-based.”
Another simple change you can make is to reduce the amount of pesticides in your garden, as slug pellets not only deplete an importance source of food for hedgehogs, but it can also cause a build-up of fatal toxins if the hedgehogs eat the slugs.
“Why not try alternatives such as laying down egg shells instead slug pellets? And using coffee grounds and orange peel have been quite successful for people in the past as well. However, if you create a hedgehog hole or highway, they’ll certainly be the best thing on your side when it comes to getting rid of slugs.”
There are also a number of dangers that people should be aware of in their gardens that hedgehogs may fall foul to.
The mammal can sometimes come into danger when people have ponds in their gardens – so having a ramp or way for them to get out if they fall in is a great idea and a quick fix.
“Something I’ve done in my garden is stack bricks on top of each other, in a criss-cross fashion, so they can climb back out if they stumble into my pond.”
And remember, before cutting the lawn or lighting a bonfire, it is important to check for any potential hedgehogs in either long grass or piles of wood. “Bonfires especially are always a risk, and we always say you should ‘build as you burn’. That way you’re not collecting piles of wood that a hedgehog could be seeking refuge in," says Lucy.
She adds that while hedgehogs are nocturnal, if you do see one during the day, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s injured.
“I think quite often, people may jump to conclusions, but if a hedgehog is out during the day and walking with purpose, and looks relatively healthy, it could have just woken up and is having a bit of an extra forage. It’s when they look visibly unwell during the day that they could be unwell.”
If you do happen to come across a potentially injured hedgehog, it is advised you get in touch with your local hedgehog rescue or sanctuary which will be able to help.
And finally, one of the best things you can do to help save the hedgehogs is to leave them alone.
Picking up and handling hedgehogs can be distressing for them, and they also carry fleas. While these are not the same fleas that cats and dogs carry, hedgehogs can also carry ringworm, lungworm and salmonellosis.
“They are wild animals at the end of the day, and we recommend people don’t touch them,” adds Lucy.
To help out Suffolk Wildlife Trust in their mission to collect data on hedgehogs here in the county, you can log your hedgehog sightings by visiting their website.