Hedgehogs are an icon of our wonderful countryside; who couldn’t fail to be charmed by these spiky, furry, sweet creatures> Unfortunately the population of British Hedgehogs is in freefall, by up to 50% in rural areas over the last 20 years.
There is no obvious cause to this decline. Road deaths, loss of habitat, pesticides and badgers have all been considered, but nothing is conclusive.
However the answer may lie with Andrew Jackson of Brackley Hogwatch. Over the last few years we have worked with Andrew in his tireless crusade to help hedgehogs in distress by donating our time and equipment. As part of our clinical examination we may perform xrays and from this, along with other data, we can determine the age of the animals through looking at growth plate closure. It seems that the majority of juvenile hedgehogs are now not surviving their first winter, and thus not making it to breeding age. Most baby hedgehogs (hoglets) are born in summer and after around ten days of foraging with their mother will wander off on their own. Females are capable of having a second litter in autumn but these young are unlikely to survive the winter, as these litters do not put on enough weight to survive the winter.
However, Andrew’s research is showing that it is the first litter that is not surviving, and hence causing the fall in numbers:
We can prove that 80% of these are first litters failing later in the year, not second litters. Even if every garden in the country was hedgehog friendly we will still lose our hedgehogs, because a change in the juvenile survival rate is the ONLY significant factor
It still isn’t clear what is causing the first litters to be so catastrophically delayed, and research now needs to be done to investigate this problem.
Please support Andrew and Brackley Hogwatch. It is through your support for their work that we may save this important member of British Wildlife.