Look sharp! The poor old hedgehog needs our help

Due to the changing nature of our landscape their numbers are in steep decline, but help is at hand for our prickly friends

Simon Kelner
Tuesday 17 March 2015 19:58 GMT
Hedgehogs, badgers, voles and other creatures are under threat
Hedgehogs, badgers, voles and other creatures are under threat (Getty Images)

Today I’d like to bring to your attention the plight of one of Britain’s endangered species. And no, I’m not talking about Jeremy Clarkson again. Recently, I asked a random group of young people whether they had ever seen a hedgehog in the wild. Half of them had never seen this quintessential British mammal, and of those who had encountered one, it was literally that. They had seen one. Once.

Hedgehogs are in dramatic decline in Britain, to the point that, if nothing is done, they will become so rare that children being born today will probably never see one in their lifetime. Over the past two decades, hedgehog numbers are believed to have declined by 40 per cent, and while the effects of environmental degradation on a global basis can seem remote and less than urgent, the potential loss of an everyday creature which is emblematic of our own habitat should be something that reaches us.

I recently heard the author Naomi Klein explaining why she was moved to write her latest book, This Changes Everything – a treatise about the effects of capitalism on the natural world. She said that a powerful impetus was the thought that her young children might never see a moose, that once ubiquitous animal of her native Canada. The despoiling of their natural habitat, and the effects of climate change, has precipitated a calamitous fall in numbers.

Whether it’s highlighting the predicament of the moose or the hedgehog, this is a connective way to increase understanding of the effects of environmental change. It’s relatively straightforward to mobilise the public to help save tigers or elephants. But the poor old hedgehog?

The main problem for the British hedgehog is the changing nature of our landscape. The loss of bushes and hedges, to be replaced in many of the country’s back gardens by hard barriers like fences and walls, is a particularly important factor. Hedgehogs have a gypsy spirit and like to move from one green space to another. If they are prevented from doing so, they become isolated and cannot mate, or find enough to eat.

Under the Natural Environment Act of 2006, hedgehogs are classified as a “species of principal importance”, and at last action is being taken to ensure they stay that way. Britain’s first hedgehog conservation area, a 220-acre sanctuary in Warwickshire, is launched today in order to give the animals a habitat in which to go forth and multiply.

Those behind this project feel that the public can play a hugely important role in protecting hedgehogs by making a hole in fences and walls in their gardens to enable a safe passage for the animals. A few years ago, The Independent launched a campaign to highlight the dramatic decline of another typically British species, the sparrow. It moved the nation, inspired lots of individual acts of conservation, and the sparrow is no longer threatened.

If we can do it for the sparrow, we can do it for the hedgehog, and ensure that tomorrow’s children will know what this peculiar and evocative British animal really looks like.

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