FEB 23, 2018 08:02 AM PST

Can Hedgehog Infrastructure Save Britain's' Spiny Friends?

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Hedgehog Street is a UK-based charity that seeks to protect and increase the native population of the beloved hedgehog. Much as the Banff National Park has created wildlife underpasses and overpasses to allow animals to safely pass the Trans-Canada Highway, one of the initiatives Hedgehog Street supports is the construction of “Hedgehog Highways,” a unique infrastructure of holes and tunnels to improve the lives of these spiny mammals in suburbia.

hedgehog and Hedgehog Highway, credit: public domain (1), Hedgehog Street (2)

“Fortunately, we know that hedgehogs love gardens and we know what features they need to survive and thrive in suburbia,” the Hedgehog Street site states. The passage holes, which only need to be about 13 centimeters (cm) by 13 cm (about 5 inches squared), can create important connections between yards, parks and gardens. They are also small enough to prevent most pets from using them. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and often travel about 1 mile at night looking for food or a mate.

Hedgehogs have been proclaimed Britain's favorite mammal by the Royal Society of Biology. But their population, estimated at about 1.6 million in 1995, is declining in Britain by about 3 or 4 percent annually, according to Hedgehog Street. While their nocturnal and somewhat solitary behavior makes them difficult to count, more than a third have been lost between 2002 and 2017.

Farming, which creates large fields and removes hedges, cuts back on the animals’ nesting and hiding sites. This can make them more vulnerable to predation from badgers and foxes. Agricultural developments also reduce their access to insect larvae, slugs and earthworms to eat.

“Badgers and hedgehogs, however, coexist in many areas and a better understanding of the habitat features that support both is needed,” Emily Wilson and David Wembridge write in “The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018.”

Rural roads with low lighting and high speed limits are also Hedgehog Highway, credit: Hedgehog Street hazardous for hedgehogs and it’s estimated about 100,000 are killed annually by vehicles.

Wilson is a Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street and says, “I love their gentle nature. There is still so much to learn about these nighttime visitors and this piques my natural curiosity, but one thing I do hear a lot is how people are seeing less of them.”

Hedgehog Street is part of a broader campaign run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). Both of these groups sell the Hedgehog Highway labels that can be used to mark the specialized tunnels, which read, “Please keep this hole open!”

Hedgehog Street also funds hedgehog research and offers training courses for builders and landscapers on how to incorporate hedgehog habitat protection into their plans. For example, fencing companies can design section dividers with pre-drilled hedgehog holes. Another pro-hedgehog option, as the creatures’ name suggests, is to exchange solid space dividers for hedges, where they can eat and live.

Hedgehog Street has registered over 47,000 people since 2011 have as Hedgehog Champions – volunteers who will build the highways and participate in other conservation activities. Sightings of this popular mammal, which won a 2013 BBC poll to pick a national species, can be reported to the “Big Hedgehog Map.”

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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