The sorry tale of one of our favourite animals… what future for the hedgehog?
When was the last time you saw a hedgehog?
Such a question usually draws the response, with either an air of resignation or a smirk as though the whole thing’s a bit of joke: “One that isn’t squashed on the road, you mean?”
However, even that doesn’t ring true any more and we could just as well ask the question: “When was the last time you saw a dead hedgehog?”
Because the answer is likely to be “Not for a long time”.
Hedgehog numbers have collapsed across the country, surveys suggesting numbers are only about half what they were some 20 years ago.
Ironically, one measure of the species’ decline is the number found dead on the road, the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 report revealing that the total killed on our rural roads had fallen by between a third and a half.
Another survey, focused on counts from gardens, offered similarly disturbing results, although there was an indication that the decline in urban areas was levelling off.
In rural areas the intensification of farming, with its loss of hedgerows and field margins, is highlighted as the primary cause of the slump.
The fall is even more marked over the longer term, with numbers dropping from some 30 million in the 1950s to about one million today, a staggering decline of almost 97 per cent.
The hedgehog was one of the species highlighted in the launch of the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, broadcaster Chris Packham pointing to a “mass extinction in our own backyards” due to man’s assault on the environment.
The manifesto was put together by 18 scientists, wildlife experts and campaigners, who say the UK is now one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries but offer 20 possible ways to help reverse the trend.
The accompanying photograph of a hedgehog was taken by CPRE Essex vice-chairman Tricia Moxey in her garden a few years ago, but she says there are still some about, with cemeteries often good places to find them.
The species is being surveyed as part of the biodiversity aspect of the Ongar Neighbourhood Plan.