The West European Hedgehog is common in mainland Europe but classified as vulnerable in the United Kingdom – in danger of becoming extinct. Why is this the case?
In Europe, the brownish-white West European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is widespread and found from Portugal to Russia. Researchers think that the numbers are high because hedgehogs have a varied diet with an abundant choice in mainland Europe.
However, in the United Kingdom, the numbers of West European Hedgehogs have declined significantly although exact numbers are not available. Scientists think that one main reason may be the high number that are killed on the roads – which is estimated to be thousands each each. In addition, modern farming methods and few hedgerow plants might also contribute to the declining numbers in the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, there seems to be less decline of West European Hedgehogs in urban areas (towns and cities) of the UK than in rural areas (the countryside). Urban hedgehogs in UK are thought to have declined by 25% between 2000 and 2010, compared to a higher percentage in rural areas. Hedgehog numbers have declined in rural areas since 2000 by 30% to 75%, depending on the region.
The urban decline seems to be stabilising and hedgehog number are even starting to recover and improve. Urban green areas appear to be the reason why West European Hedgehogs in UK are doing better in cities than in the countryside.
A London research study published in 2021 by researchers from the Queen Mary University and the Zoological Society in London found that hedgehogs were more likely to be present in gardens, parks, allotments, and terraced houses in urban areas and less likely to be present in areas with a high-density of humans and where roads and buildings accounted for more than 31% of land use. The research found that much of Greater London has suitable habitats for hedgehogs.
A German research study in April 2022 found that gardens in Braunschweig are important for hedgehogs travelling up to 3 kilometres per night from garden to garden. They are mostly nocturnal mammals and are highly active at night.
A GPS tracking study of hedgehog movements in the UK, published in the Mammalian Biology journal in April 2022 by researchers of the University of Reading and the Nottingham Trent University in UK found that hedgehogs spend more time in gardens when it has rained overnight and during the summer when the nights are short – and also when foxes are not around.
The West European Hedgehog is small – growing to 26 centimetres (10 inches) long – but they can climb quite high and can climb fences. Scientists suggest that garden owners should have gaps in their fences so that the hedgehog does not have to climb the fence, but can walk through the gaps when travelling at night from garden to garden.
Hedgehogs like access to water, so garden owners can leave a dish of water in the garden in the evening for wandering hedgehogs.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM