This month's Star Species needs your help; our hedgehogs are in peril. Read on to find out what's happening to one of our favourite wild creatures, and what you can do to help.
Everyone loves hedgehogs. These little brown spiky creatures who snuffle around our garden on summer nights have a place in our hearts and in the national psyche.
But ask yourself when you last actually saw a hedgehog? The shocking truth is that hedgehogs have seen a 95% decline since the 1950's, and the decline is continuing. Hedgehogs have been disappearing as fast as tigers in Asia but somehow this crisis on our own doorstep (sometimes literally) hasn't registered with us in the same way.
Why are hedgehogs disappearing?
There are many reasons for the falling numbers of hedgehogs. The main one is that their habitats are disappearing and being fragmented. Road and house building, the fencing off of gardens so that hedgehogs can't roam, the decline in natural hedgerows since the 1950's, and the ever-increasing danger of being run over, all play their part. Their natural predators, badgers, can take some of the blame and pesticides too, mainly by way of slugs that have ingested slug pellets.
The dramatic decline of hedgehogs is worrying because they are considered to be an "indicator species" like butterflies, which means that they tell us something about the state of the natural world in general. The message is that we need to make some big changes as a society if we are to preserve and protect our natural spaces. But luckily, small steps by all of us can also help to make a difference to the plight of hedgehogs.
What can we do to help?
Dig a hog hole - encourage hedgehogs to make a home in your garden by creating a hole of at least 13cm x 13cm in a sheltered spot and persuade your neighbours to do the same.
Reduce your use of garden pesticides - slug pellets in particular are a hazard as hedgehogs eat the poisoned slugs. Natural management of your garden will bring you more birds and butterflies too.
Create a pond - a small pond with sloping edges gives our spiky friends somewhere to drink safely.
Keep your dog indoors in the evening - dogs can attack hedgehogs on their "patch" so make sure the two don't meet.
Make a hedgehog feeding station - get a deep plastic mushroom carton and cut a 13cm x 13cm hole in one of the short sides. Place it over some food (cat or dog food, or special hedgehog food you can buy). The hedgehog can get to the food but it keeps cats out. Put something on top to keep it stable and a brick next to the entrance to stop a cat hooking out the food. Always make sure there is a little food left in the mornings - if not, you are not leaving enough.
Find out more about how you can befriend hedgehogs from your local Wildlife Trust. We work with many Wildlife Trusts around the country and they all have activities that you can join in to monitor and protect hedgehogs.
What if I find a sick or injured hedgehog?
Our Forest Ranger at Forest of Dean, Gerry O'Brien, has a soft spot for hedgehogs. Here is his advice on what to do if you find a sick or injured hedgehog, as he did at Forest of Dean last year:
"There has been a spate of day time sightings of hedgehogs recently which is not a good sign. They should be tucked up asleep during the day and if they are wandering about it usually means something is wrong.
If you find one, bring it inside and put it into a shoe box with a fleece to line it. You can put a warm hot water bottle beneath the fleece too, but don't let it go cold. Feed the hedgehog meaty cat or dog food and water, and then call The Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890 801."
The Hedgehog Preservation Society has lot of leaflets to help hedgehogs, including how to encourage hedgehogs in to your garden and how to look after them if they are sick and injured.
Gerry concludes, "we all love these little fellows and now is the time to show it with some action."
The Hedgehog files
• Hedgehogs are mammals and they have been around for millions of years.
• A hedgehog's spikes are called spines and they are a defence mechanism. When under threat a hedgehog curls into a tight ball with all its spines sticking out - it's a pretty effective defence!
• Hedgehogs are nocturnal and they are one of a few mammals that hibernate in the winter.
• Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets. They are born in the summer in litters of four or five.
• A male hedgehog is called a boar and the female a sow. They have no relation to the pig family; they just have snouts a bit like pigs and live in hedgerows!
• Hedgehogs are generally solitary animals but the name for a group of hedgehogs is an array.
Our Forest Rangers are all doing their bit to look after hedgehogs. Come and stay with us at one of our UK locations and spend some time finding out more about these lovely but threatened little animals on a Forest Ranger activity.