Britain's favourite prickly character suffers a sharp and mysterious decline in numbers

A A A

Whether they are called Mrs Tiggywinkle or Sonic, hedgehogs have always had a strong hold on the nation's affections. But according to a new study, the creatures' days in our gardens could be numbered.

The Mammals Trust UK warned that hedgehog numbers may be in serious decline, as the animals become victims of a combination of a destruction of habitat, drier summers and increased road traffic. Figures published yesterday by the Trust suggest numbers across Britain may have declined by as much as 30 per cent over the past four years.

"It is of great concern to see that the decline in hedgehog numbers is continuing," said Jill Nelson, chief executive of the Trust. She urged the public to help the Trust in understanding the true picture by taking part in their annual survey of mammals, which starts tomorrow. It also warned that the decline might have implications for other species with similar needs.

The apparent reduction comes in spite of intensive campaigns by both the Government and wildlife groups to stop drivers running over hedgehogs and to rescue them from garden bonfires, particularly around 5 November, when mounds of leaves provide attractive places for hibernation.

The Trust's Mammals on Roads survey for 2004, which measures the number of mammals seen on British roads, shows that the number of hedgehogs declined from 1.67 per 100 kilometres in 2001, the first year of the survey, to 1.17 last year; a fall of around 30 per cent. The decline was most marked in eastern England, where figures fell from 2.6 in 2001 to 2.1 last year. Gross numbers show that in 2001, 2,569 hedgehogs were seen on 128,000km, while in 2004, 109,000km driven led to 930 sightings.

Although the Trust cautioned that it was too early to tell how much of a long-term trend was indicated by the results, the overall numbers were lower than a similar survey undertaken in the early 1990s.

Dr Paul Bright of Royal Holloway college, University of London, who analysed the results, said: "It's important to continue to monitor hedgehogs and determine why their numbers are changing, not only to ensure we safeguard this species for the future, but also because if the hedgehog is declining, so will many other species with similar needs. Mammals on Roads is currently the only survey able to monitor hedgehog numbers on a national scale."

Among the factors believed to be responsible for the decline are the increased intensification of agriculture, which has led to a reduction in the hedgerows, brambles and thickets that are the preferred natural habitat of the hedgehog. Despite the fact that gardeners have always encouraged hedgehogs because of their appetite for slugs and snails, the increase in "designer" gardens, where paving and decking have replaced lawns and shrubberies, has also affected their habitats. Drier summers, which reduce the amount of moisture and slugs may also be responsible.

Many hedgehogs also die from eating slugs which have consumed slug pellets put down by gardeners. Fay Vass, of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, warned that some pellets which were marketed as being "wildlife friendly" still contained the chemical metaldehyde, which is dangerous to hedgehogs; the society has lodged complaints with advertising standards authorities about one particular company.

She said: "We are also very concerned about the decline. We believe increas-ed use of pesticides in agriculture and the increase in road use are also responsible for this situation." The society produces information packs for those wanting to encourage hedgehogs in their gardens; this includes leaving some areas untended to provide nesting places, as well as the right kind of food to leave out, such as most meat-based leftovers or cat food.

The Mammal Trust survey is based on reports by members of the public, who are asked to keep a log of all sightings of mammals, both alive and dead on single carriageway roads on journeys of more than 20 miles during July, August and September.

Respondents to the survey logged sightings of 24 species of wild mammals during 2004, including five of the six species of deer and seven carnivores – stoat, weasel, polecat, otter, badger, mink and fox.

Hedgehog habits

* Hedgehogs have up to 500 spines, but only on their backs. The rest is fur

* They are nocturnal and hibernate from November to March

* The hedgehog protects itself by rolling into a ball, so its spikes stand out in all directions

* In the wild, they sleep in a ball or stretched out. They prefer to nest under rocks, roots or in leaves

* Hedgehog fleas prefer hedgehogs and will not live on cats, dogs or humans

* Hedgehogs sneeze, snort and click. When frightened they squeal, and when happy they purr

* Babies, white when first born, are called hoglets

* Although they eat insects, they will also eat mice, frogs, small birds, and worms. They also steal birds' eggs from nests

* Many people leave food for hedgehogs in the garden – they like meat scraps or pet foods, but never fish; they should never be fed bread and milk – it gives them diarrhoea

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea