The Great British hedgehog is in serious decline. In the 1950s, there were estimated to be 30 million hedgehogs in the UK, but by 1995 this number had dramatically reduced to 1.5 million. Some reports even suggest that hedgehogs might become extinct in Britain by 2025.
Why hedgehog numbers are falling is not known for certain. However, the most likely causes include intensive agriculture, the use of pesticides and fencing that prevents hedgehogs moving between gardens as well as road accidents. New buildings and roads have carved up suitable habitat, so that small populations have become isolated and more vulnerable to local extinction.
However, help is at hand in the form of local charity, Save our Hedgehog Isle of Wight, run by Jacquie Wilson and her husband, Bob, assisted by Mandy Fielding, an ex veterinary nurse. The pair have set up a hedgehog hospital for sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs. Vets often volunteer their services to help the prickly creatures for free, but the charity pays for their medication.
Some years ago, Will Taylor offered to help, and his main role has been to run campaigns, such as putting holes in fences in new developments, getting the use of slug pellets banned in allotments and setting up Hedgehog Island in conjunction with I.W. Natural History and Archaeological Society and the I.W. Zoo. People can record their sightings of hedgehogs on Hedgehog Island, which will give us a better idea of where hedgehogs live in the Island, and we may be able to estimate how many live here.
Jacquie’s efforts appear to have had some success. She said: “We are hopeful numbers are starting to recover. We are getting more coming into the hospital, and we are getting reports of more being found dead on the roads, which usually means there are more around.”
Jacquie has some timely advice for lovers of hedgehogs in autumn. She says: “At this time of year, juvenile hedgehogs struggle to put on weight before hibernating, so it is a good idea to feed them up. Also, please check bonfires carefully before November 5, as hedgehogs think they are a great place to hibernate over winter.”
When asked why she cares about hedgehogs, Jacquie says: “Everyone loves a hedgehog. In polls, along with the red squirrel, they are Britain’s favourite animal.”
Anyone wishing to help Island hedgehogs should call Jacquie on 01983 613145, or visit the website, Save our Hedgehogs, Isle of Wight, set up by Zoe Stroud.