‘Furze-pigs’ or ‘Urchins’ are instantly recognisable and one of our most treasured animals - winning the BBC Wildlife Magazine’s ‘Natural Emblem’ poll in 2013. Unfortunately, along with many of our mammal species they are in serious trouble.
Recent surveys have shown that halved since the turn of the century. This decline has been particularly marked in the countryside as a result of habitat loss from intensive farming. The creation of large-field monocultures with the loss of hedgerows and field margins destroys sites that are good for nesting, foraging and protection as well as the removal of connectivity. A high level of pesticide use is also a huge problem as it kills invertebrate populations that are a vital food source for hedgehogs (as well as many other species).
However, there is a glimmer of hope in our towns and cities. Although their numbers have declined by a third in urban areas the rate of decline is slowing and in some areas actually reversing. They still face many hazards in towns and gardens: slug pellets, traffic, litter (especially plastics) and elastic bands (the red ones that posties drop can be mistaken for worms) all contribute to hedgehog mortality.
Because of their nocturnal nature it’s often hard to catch sight of a living hedgehog but if you put out food and watch quietly with a soft light you stand a good chance of seeing them - you’ll probably hear them as a feasting hog can be heard from many yards away!
Putting out food is a help to them but please don’t give them bread or milk as it’s not good for them. Cat or dog food is fine and don”t forget a supply of fresh water especially in times of frost or drought.
There are other ways to help. Build a hedgehog home - there are plenty of examples online. Create a compost heap because as well as being useful in the garden it will attract earthworms which are a key part of their diet. Having an invertebrate friendly garden is a massive help. They’ll eat a massive range of things (slugs and sails included) and can munch through their own bodyweight in food over the course of a single night.
Check before strimming or mowing as many injuries are caused by garden machinery and remember, remember - check bonfires before lighting!
They need fairly large areas of land to move around in. Impermeable fences therefore create a problem so putting holes in them is a really simple but effective way of helping out. Why not speak to your neighbours to see if you could help create a ‘hedgehog street’ - have a look at the following site which gives lots of helpful advice and information.