Wildlife lovers are being asked to help with a nationwide study into the housing habits of hedgehogs.
The UK’s housing crisis is often high on the news agenda, but this August, a more rustic type of accommodation, home to the UK’s smaller, spikier residents, is taking a share of the spotlight.
Conservation campaign Hedgehog Street has launched the first ever national Hedgehog Housing Census to help combat the ongoing decline in native hedgehog population numbers.
The survey runs until October 31 and aims to dig a little deeper into the world of hedgehogs, hoping to answer several questions about how they live - in particular their use of artificial hedgehog houses.
Such residences have not previously been studied, despite thousands of people having one in their garden.
Information gathered via an online survey will be analysed by experts at the University of Reading and the results will help the Hedgehog Street team find out what the best type of hedgehog house is and how they can be used to support the conservation of these animals, enabling wildlife enthusiasts across the UK to further help their spikey garden residents.
Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street explains: “We know thousands of people across the UK have hedgehog houses in their gardens, but what we don’t know is whether they actually benefit hedgehogs.
"No one has conducted this type of research before, so our results will help inform current advice on how best to use a hedgehog house. Through the Hedgehog Housing Census we will investigate the nation’s hedgehog homes, to find out what works best for hedgehogs, which in turn will help our ongoing conservation work.”
Hedgehog Street is a nationwide campaign set up by wildlife charities the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES),
The survey is in partnership with the University of Reading and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
Since its creation in 2011, Hedgehog Street has recruited more than 44,000 volunteers, known as Hedgehog Champions, pledging to help save the nation’s favourite mammal by making small steps in their own gardens.
The new Hedgehog Housing Census will answer questions on how hedgehog houses are used - whether for summer nesting, as a maternity nest, or for hibernation, as well as what the houses are mad from, whether they are homemade or shop bought, where they are located and what are the best designs.
The census will be sent to all Hedgehog Champions, but the Hedgehog Street team is keen to hear from anyone who has a hedgehog house in their garden and isn’t already a champion.
The data collected will be analysed over the winter months, with the results due to be published in spring 2018.
Visit www.hedgehogstreet.org/housingcensus to take part.
The decline of hedgehogs
The loss of hedgerows and intensive farming in rural areas, along with tidy, fenced-in gardens in urban and suburban locations, are just some of the threats contributing to the demise of Britain’s native hedgehog.
It is estimated that populations have declined by up to a third in urban areas, and by at least half in rural areas since 2000, according to the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2015 report, which was published by PTES and BHPS.
Abigail Gazzard, a postgraduate researcher for the University of Reading, said: "Hedgehogs are one of the UK's most popular wildlife species, yet their populations are in decline. Consequently, there is the need to identify which factors positively or negatively affect hedgehog populations so that we can help to reverse this decline.
"In urban areas, local residents are in a prime position to help us achieve this. We first need to understand why hedgehogs appear to use some gardens and not others, so that we can provide evidence-based guidance on what householders can do to help this iconic species.
"This questionnaire survey will be the first to investigate how successful hedgehog houses might be in helping to provide sites for resting, breeding and hibernating, and is one of a series of collaborative projects between BHPS, PTES and the University of Reading to help gather such evidence."
She added: “There are lots of ways people can help hedgehogs, but in addition to making a small hole in your fence, providing the correct food and drink, and keeping areas of your garden untidy, if you are lucky enough to see hedgehogs in your garden, you can further help these endangered creatures by having the right accommodation on hand ready for them when they need it.”