Growing up I would sometimes pass afternoons in search of critters in my backyard. I would find all sorts of creatures indigenous to the Northeast. Garter snakes, worms and tiny red newts were all exciting finds. Had I grown up in Great Britain, it would have been very likely that I discovered a different animal, one very popular in British gardens these days: the hedgehog.
New research by the University of Hamburg suggests that Great Britain’s indigenous hedgehogs have changed their lifestyle to adapt to growing urban development. Hedgehog populations in urban areas are often higher than those of the surrounding countryside. Researchers tagged 14 hedgehogs with GPS temperature sensors and monitored them for 10 months. They found that urban hedgehogs travel far less at night than rural ones do—only 12 acres, compared to 123. Urban hedgehogs tend to sleep in private gardens during the day, then go out at around 9 p.m. after people and dogs have gone indoors. The study also found that urban hedgehogs follow the same hibernation patterns as rural ones, unaffected by human activity, noise and availability of food sources (read: trash) over the winter.
However, hedgehogs aren’t fully out of the woods. Their urban numbers have declined in Britain by one-third since 2000, and rural numbers have halved. Habitat destruction from farming and urban development is putting the species in further danger. As hedgehogs live in bushy areas with natural vegetation, urban gardens and parks are crucial to their survival.
In order to help preserve habitat for urban hedgehogs, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has founded the Hedgehog Street initiative. The campaign encourages citizens to cultivate gardens that hedgehogs can use as a habitat. It also encourages citizens to cut small, 5-by-5-inch holes in the bottom of their fences so that hedgehogs can pass through. This helps to increase the animal’s roaming areas and grant them access to more areas around the city. (You can see a map tracking hedgehog sightings, as well as the “hedgehog highway,” here.) As of December 2016, there were over 41,000 registered “Hedgehog Champions” on the site.
Hopefully with the help of these conservation efforts these spiny animals will thrive and Great Britain’s beloved animal will be around for years to come.
Did You Know?
When encountering a strange smell, such as turpentine or tobacco, a hedgehog will lick it up. (Hedgehogs are very resistant to toxins.) The animal will then lather the substance over its quills. Scientists don’t know why the hedgehog does this. Some theories are that doing so disguises their scent from predators, poisons the tips of their spines or kills parasites that may be on the animal.