New research shows St Albans is not immune from declining hedgehog population


Hedgehog - Credit: Supplied by Peter Oakenfull

New research indicates that hedgehog populations are declining around St Albans district and Hertfordshire.

In the first systematic survey using footprint tracking tunnels to monitor rural hedgehog populations in England and Wales, the spiky animals were only found at 21 per cent of 261 sites between 2014 to 2015.

Monitors were placed near Tyttenhanger and to the south west of Wheathampstead, as well as to the west of Welwyn, north of Stevenage, between Sandon and Kelshall, between Wild Hill and Bell Bar, and near to Wormley West End.

The research also found that badgers were not present at many sites.

Primary author of the paper and PhD student at the University of Reading, Ben Williams, said: “We found that although hedgehogs were generally widely distributed across England and Wales, they were actually found at a worryingly low number of sites.”

Writers of the research believe the declining numbers of both hedgehogs and badgers may be down to a land management issue, climate change, or both.

The paper, Reduced Occupancy of Hedgehogs in Rural England and Wales: The Influence of Habitat and an Asymmetric Intra-guild Predator, was published in Scientific Reports.

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Ben continued: “Perhaps more importantly our results indicate that a large proportion of rural England and Wales is potentially unsuitable for both hedgehogs and badgers to live in.

“Given the similarity in diets of the two species, one explanation for this could be the reduced availability of macro-invertebrate prey (such as earthworms) which both species need to feed on to survive.

“This could be as a result of agricultural intensification and climate change.”

He also noted that hedgehogs are increasingly using human habitats, such as gardens, as a refuge.

The paper was led by Nottingham Trent University and the University of Reading, and funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Grants Manager at PTES, Nida Al-Fulaij, added: “Badgers are what’s known as ‘intra-guild predators’, meaning they predate hedgehogs but also compete with them for food resources. This naturally makes their relationship complex, which we already knew, but until now we didn’t realise the extent to which changes in the landscape were affecting both species.”