Forget Patagonian toothfish, hedgehogs need our help

Our own doorstep is a good place to start when it comes to conservation

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The Independent Online

When I first wrote about the plight of the British hedgehog a few months ago, it engendered quite a response from environmentally conscious readers.

Many bemoaned the alarming drop in the population of this once-ubiquitous creature, but the vast majority of correspondents wrote in to point out that the small picture illustrating this column was of a African hedgehog and not the British variety.

Not only do a large number of people care about the hedgehog, many of you know quite a lot about them, too. We won’t make that mistake again.

I make no apologies for writing on the subject of hedgehogs again. I know there are more serious issues in the world today, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be alarmed – and motivated – by the shocking fall of hedgehog numbers in the UK.

Back in the 1950s, there were around 30 million hedgehogs in Britain: today, according to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, there are now fewer than a million populating our fields, gardens and hedgerows. If this calamitous rate of decline continues, the hedgehog will be extinct in Britain within a decade.

This was the contention of Michaela Strachan, the presenter of Countryfile, who, in an interview in the Radio Times, said that wildlife conservation can begin close to home. “Hedgehogs are declining at the same rate as tigers,” she said, and it’s certainly true that, compared with tigers, elephants, rhinos and other big beasts, hedgehogs are, to use the expression du jour, just not sexy. Even among our domestic animals, the dangers facing foxes and badgers draw much more vocal support.

“We are all so familiar with hedgehogs that it’s easy to forget that we need to conserve them,” she added. “Familiar animals can be the ones in real danger.” I would question her use of the word familiar. Outside the works of Beatrix Potter, young people today are unlikely to have ever come across a hedgehog. Nevertheless, there’s no denying her argument that our own doorstep is a good place to start when it comes to conservation.

To that end, a national charity called Hedgehog Street has been established, and there are now almost 34,000 Hedgehog Champions in the UK, people who are making a practical contribution to the continuance of the species by adapting their gardens to become hedgehog-friendly, by making friends and neighbours aware of the potentially disastrous predicament of the hedgehog, and by sharing their hedgehog-related experiences across forums and social networks.

Little things make a big difference – a saucer of water maybe, or a hole in a fence which allows them to spread their area of operation – and, as was the case with the common sparrow a decade ago (largely as a result of a campaign launched by The Independent), it’s not beyond expectation that the decline could be reversed.

You may ask whether, in the grand scheme of things, any of this matters. Well, we’ve just had an election in which we were constantly told that austerity measures are necessary now because we can’t leave an economic catastrophe for future generations. Surely, we also can’t bequeath an environmental disaster either. So rise up, get busy and help save our hedgehogs!