Few small animals hold such a special place in the hearts of the wildlife-loving public as the humble hedgehog. Generations of children have been enchanted by the exploits of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle or classics such as The Hodgeheg by Dick King-Smith, but the future of this iconic little creature, twice voted Britain’s favourite species, is very much in the balance.
Numbers of hedgehogs are declining at an alarming rate and it is estimated that since 2000 we have lost half of our rural hedgehogs and a third of the urban dwellers*. Much of this decline has been down to the increase in overnight traffic, endangering them at a time when they venture out seeking food, but also as result of a reduction in the availability of that food and loss of habitat. Here at the Heart of England Forest hedgehogs can find a welcome sanctuary and we are keen to continue providing an environment in which they can thrive.
Hedgehogs mean health
Hedgehogs are a valuable pointer to the overall health of the environment. If our cities, towns and villages are in a favourable state with plenty of well-connected green space providing shelter and supporting a good supply of insect food, then the hedgehog population would thrive. As house building and infrastructure projects increase, the wide expanse of habitats in the Heart of England Forest, where hedgehogs can move about freely in search of food, are more important than ever.
At this time of year, as the longer nights and colder weather combine to challenge wildlife survival, hedgehogs are preparing to hibernate. Hedgehogs favour homes at the edge of woodland, where the carpet of autumn leaves provides them with ideal nesting material, while the dense ground foliage is the perfect place to make safe nests.
Creating a haven
The Heart of England Forest team’s ongoing policy of sensitive woodland management aims to maintain and improve the quality of life for hedgehogs on our land. The diversity of structure within the Forest is attractive to a wide array of wildlife. Light reaching the woodland floor promotes areas of understory suitable for wildlife to nest, and a diversity of vegetation, which in turn attracts a range of insect and invertebrate prey for hedgehogs, birds and other small mammals.
As the Heart of England Forest is taking a landscape scale approach to linking up habitats, this tackles the problem of fragmentation which hedgehogs are experiencing. Everyone can help with this, by extending the Forest into their own gardens, and connecting habitats to make it easier for hedgehogs to forage.
Four years ago, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust set up their Help for Hedgehogs campaign and we spoke to their Senior Hedgehog Officer, Simon Thompson, to find out how we can all help hedgehogs:
“The most important thing that any of us can do for hedgehogs is to make sure that there’s access for them into your garden. A hole at ground level, about the size of a CD case, will let even the biggest of hedgehogs in. No matter the quality of the garden, if a hedgehog can get in and out again then that garden becomes part of a larger corridor that they can move through to find food, water, shelter or mates. Habitat being fragmented into inaccessible chunks is thought to be one of the driving forces behind the declines in hedgehog populations that we are witnessing. Walls, concrete bottomed fences, roads and rail all carve up the environment making areas dangerous or impossible to access.”
We’d love to hear from you if you spot a hedgehog in the Heart of England Forest so do get in touch and send us a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org
Warwickshire and Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts are also collecting information on hedgehog sightings, and these can be submitted via their websites:
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Hedgehog Preservation Society have a joint project called the big hedgehog map where they are creating a national picture of the status of hedgehogs. If you’d like to contribute to this please send in your sightings to:
*Source: Warwickshire Wildlife Trust