Research is underway to teach us more about why hedgehogs are declining and what we can do about it .
This issue is not straightforward. There could be many factors that are contributing to the decline of hedgehog populations. Plus, it is also complicated because populations in urban and rural habitats experience different pressures and changes.
Why are hedgehogs scarcer in rural areas?
Research done by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)
- Intensification of agriculture – intensive farming methods can reduce the quantity and quality of hedgehog habitat. Studies are underway to identify the types of features in habitats that benefit hedgehogs, but two aspects are likely to impact on hedgehogs: Habitat loss and fragmentation – larger fields and the loss of hedges and copses result in fewer nesting sites and less protection for hedgehogs. Prey availability – insect larvae and soil invertebrates such as earthworms and slugs make up a large part of hedgehogs’ diet but can be scarce in agricultural soils. A recent study in Germany measured the weight of flying insects trapped at around sixty nature reserves and found a decline of more than 75% since 19894 . If Britain has seen a similar loss, fewer insect larvae, such as caterpillars and beetle grubs, might have impacted on hedgehogs and other species.
- Roadkill – rural roads often have higher speed limits and reduced lighting meaning drivers are less able to spot wildlife. Nationwide, it’s estimated that around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed annually , and it’s not known whether this level of mortality is sustainable.
- Predation – in the UK, badgers are the main wild predator of hedgehogs, but foxes can also cause injuries and kill young animals. Badgers and hedgehogs, however, co-exist in many areas and a better understanding of the habitat features that support both is needed.