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All about hedgehogs: the facts, their quirks, and why they're vulnerable to extinction
Bethany Holmes of Hedgehog Friendly Campus in the UK introduces us to the hedgehog, and why it's become crucial to help them
When I think of hedgehogs, the words “cute” and “adorable” come up.
What is Hedgehog Friendly Campus?
I asked Bethany Holmes, project coordinator and lead on Hedgehog Friendly Schools, to tell us more. Here are a few good things to know:
• Hedgehog Friendly Campus started in 2018 at the University of Sheffield
It was created by Jo Wilkinson, and the resulting enthusiasm and support from different groups helped it grow from there.
Staff and students from universities, FE colleges and schools can register their institutions and work towards becoming an accredited Hedgehog Friendly Campus.
• Registered teams are supplied with a toolkit and other resources
These help to train and guide them on the best ways to protect hedgehogs and their habitats, and to raise awareness. But you can apply as a hedgehog volunteer too.
And they need you
“In 2020, hedgehogs were put on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable to extinction in Great Britain; and in rural areas, hedgehog numbers have continued to decline by between a third and three-quarters nationally according to the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022 report (Hedgehog Street),” Bethany says.
“Urban hedgehog populations, however, seem to be stabilising. This perhaps highlights the importance of local action and awareness as well as connected gardens and green spaces.
“Nevertheless, there is plenty more work to be done to ensure their survival in urban areas.”
They have a right to be worried
Bethany gives us a glimpse of what Britain’s hedgehogs are going through.
“Hedgehogs, unfortunately, have it quite rough,” she reveals.
“Although these cute creatures have spines for defence, sadly those spines aren’t enough to protect themselves from the dangers the human world has to offer.”
She lists a few of those dangers here:
“They cause fragmentation in the natural landscape and roadkill.”
• New housing developments
“They lead to habitat loss and fragmentation.”
• Use of garden machinery such as strimmers and mowers
“By not checking for hedgehogs, it can cause loss of limbs and even death.”
• Not checking a bonfire before lighting
“It can cause serious hedgehog injuries and even death.”
• Not providing an escape route in ponds
“This can lead to hedgehogs drowning.”
• Plastic waste and low-lying netting
“This can cause entanglement, leading to painful injuries and even death.”
• Agricultural simplification of rural landscapes
“This leads to loss of habitat and natural food.”
• Hedgehogs can become stuck in drains and cattle grids if there is no escape route
• The use of pesticides and poison
“This can potentially kill a hedgehog,” she concludes.
“Not to mention the natural dangers they can experience, such as a lack of food due to insect decline and predatory threats,” Bethany continues.
“Hedgehogs can often get parasites and illnesses.”
If the hedgehogs are gone…
“Hedgehogs are really important to our ecosystem. They keep it balanced, and they keep gardens and green spaces healthy by controlling insect populations,” Bethany states.
“They are also an indicator species – meaning that if hedgehogs are thriving, it is thought to believe that other species will too. It also indicates that there is a great supply of invertebrates, variety of habitat, and good connectivity of the natural environment.
“However, hedgehogs are not thriving. In fact, one of the very reasons for their decline in the UK is down to a lack of invertebrates and habitat – those of which indicate an unhealthy environment, which will in turn impact other species, including humans.”
What can we do?
Even if we’re not part of Hedgehog Friendly Campus (or if we live on the other side of the world where there are also hedgehogs in our area), Bethany says there are ways to help.
“Hedgehog Street has a fantastic guide for people wanting to help from the comfort of their own home,” she points out.
“And if you have access to a garden or green space, try adding the following to make it more hedgehog-friendly.”
• Log pile
• Homemade hedgehog house/natural hedgehog house
• Overgrown area/wild corner
“Make sure you include a ramp for hedgehogs to get out!”
“Please don’t feed hedgehogs milk or bread, it can make them poorly! Good quality meaty cat food works best.”
• Remove low-lying netting
“Hedgehogs can get entangled.”
“Hedgehogs can get trapped in it!”
• Cover over any drains
“So hedgehogs don’t get stuck.”
• Tell everyone
“Even if you don’t have a garden, you can help out by speaking to neighbours or people in your community to spread awareness! The more people know the more people can help.”
• Ask the experts
“I think it’s worth noting that Hedgehog Friendly Campus is specifically designed to help the West European Hedgehog, which is native to the UK,” Bethany says.
“However, I strongly believe that some of these actions could help all hedgehog species in some way, shape or form; but if you are international, it’s best to seek local advice about your native hedgehog.”
• Think like a hedgehog
“It’s so important to be mindful of the dangers hedgehogs face, and sometimes in order to highlight those problems and how you can help them, you have to ‘think hedgehog!’
“For example, for Hedgehog Awareness Week this year, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society was asking people to think like a hedgehog when they look at their gardens or green spaces.”
• Learn first aid for hedgehogs
“Should you find a hedgehog that needs help, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has a super informative poster explaining the signs of when a hedgehog needs help and how to carry out first aid.”
For the love of hedgehogs
Remember when I said hedgehogs were cute and adorable?
I know I started this post with an all-hands-on-deck approach (“We need to save the hedgehogs now!”), but it’s nice to focus on the positive and funny side of things too – like Bethany’s and the rest of the team’s impressions of hedgehogs, and what they find cool about hedgehogs in particular. Hopefully it’ll help you look at hedgehogs and their plight in a new light.
Let’s begin with Bethany.
Bethany Holmes, project coordinator and lead on Hedgehog Friendly Schools
What Bethany loves about hedgehogs: “The pitter-patter of hedgehog feet across the patio on an evening; their ‘teefies’ – not many people expect hedgehogs to have some sharp teeth, but they do; and their ‘cronches’ when they eat cat biscuits.”
Bethany’s favourite facts about hedgehogs: “They have small tails, about 2cm long; spiny on the top and furry underneath. They can be quite moody – a hedgehog in my garden once tore a hole in our hose pipe because it was in the way of their path (ha!). One I learnt recently was that hedgehog-like creatures roamed the earth at the same time as Sabre-toothed tigers and mammoths.”
Things we don’t readily know about hedgehogs: “They shouldn’t be fed bread or milk; it can make them very ill. It’s best to stick to cat food! They love it for some reason.”
Bethany’s hedgehog “firsts”: “As a hedgehog fosterer, I learnt that hedgehogs are very messy creatures. Every morning I would usually go and clean out this particular hedgehog after his night of chaos – such as tipping over his water bowl and paddling in his food dish. So of course, it was untidy to say the least. But never did I expect to find hedgehog poop on the ceiling of his enclosure. The ceiling?!?”
Bethany’s favourite Hedgehog Friendly Campus activities: “It would have to be Hedgehog Friendly Schools assembly and the Hedgehog Survey Workshop,” she says.
• About the Hedgehog Friendly Schools assembly: “Our assemblies tend to be one of the first actions that schools start with, so it’s to be expected that not many people know much about hedgehogs. I find it so wholesome to inspire the next generation to help save hedgehogs from extinction, and it’s always really lovely to hear a big thank you from all of the pupils at the end of it.”
• About the Hedgehog Survey Workshop: “It’s a great chance for people to learn if there are hedgehogs on campus and how they can make the area in which hedgehogs were found, safer for them. It’s also really enjoyable to talk about the footprints and field signs that hedgehogs leave behind so that teams can become hedgehog detectives on their own grounds. One thing I have learnt is that hedgehog footprints look like tiny human hands!”
Bethany’s favourite Hedgehog Friendly Campus milestones: “If I had to pick one from last year, it would be that there have been 553 positive signs of hedgehogs on campuses that are involved in the programme! All because of the work we are doing as a team, and the work our universities, FE colleges, and primary schools are doing to make their grounds safer for hedgehogs. It’s a great achievement to know that what we are all doing is working. We hope to increase that number this year!”
Jo Wilkinson, senior project manager and creator of Hedgehog Friendly Campus
What Jo loves about hedgehogs: “I love how everyone loves them!”
Jo’s favourite facts about hedgehogs: “They don’t actually hibernate all year round; they’ve been known to attack and eat live snakes; they like to live a solitary life.”
Things we don’t readily know about hedgehogs: “They are vulnerable to extinction in the UK.”
Jo’s hedgehog “firsts”: “Last year was the first time I heard hedgehogs mating! It went on for hours!”
Celine Clark, project manager and lead on the delivery of Hedgehog Friendly Campus activities (and new team member!)
What Celine loves about hedgehogs: “I love seeing them snuffle around; their cute sneezes; listening to them munching. They’re such noisy eaters but so funny to listen to – cat food is a big favourite with them!”
Celine’s favourite facts about hedgehogs: “They're surprisingly fast runners and have quite long legs under that chunky body! They are also able to swim, which I think always surprises people!”
Things we don’t readily know about hedgehogs: “I think a lot of people don’t realise there are lots of really simple but impactful changes you can make to your garden that will really help your local hedgehogs! My top three are: Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets (they can ingest these); add a shallow water dish, especially in hot summer months; and leave a small ~15cm gap under your garden gate or fence.”
Celine’s hedgehog “firsts”: “I think a hedgehog was my first wildlife rescue, actually! I was in Year 8 and spotted a very small hedgehog walking around in broad daylight in late November. We took it in, fed it, and then took it to a local rescue. They told us it’s weight was critical and it wouldn’t have survived the winter without us picking it up, so 12-year-old me felt like a hero!”
Add your experiences here
Do Bethany, Jo and Celine’s hedgehog encounters make you feel like it’s something you’re keen to do? Here’s a glimpse of what a working day at Hedgehog Friendly Campus could be like for you.
“I am sure I can speak for the rest of the team when I say that every day is different,” Bethany says.
“Be it working on an internal project such as the HogBox, developing resources, supporting teams involved, delivering activities, communication management, auditing, attending events – the list goes on – there isn’t much that we don’t do! But it’s all for the benefit of hedgehogs and inspiring the next generation. That’s what makes it so worthwhile!”
And you can’t forget the people too. When asked about her standout experiences, Bethany answers, “I would have to say the entire process of a new team joining us, to achieving an award.”
She adds: “We meet so many people who start their journey not knowing anything about hedgehogs, to them becoming so aware of the difficulties that hedgehogs face and completely transform their grounds in order to help save them from extinction.
“We see lots of lovely photos and comments at the end of the year showing what everyone has been up to, and it honestly brings a tear to your eye to see people working so hard to make a real difference. We’re very proud of all our teams and volunteers!”
The good news
“We have a few FE college spaces left for this year. If you are interested in getting involved, please sign up here,” Bethany suggests.
She also recommends a few other resources you can use to find out more about hedgehogs and hedgehog-related causes:
And of course, you can find Hedgehog Friendly Campus here.
Before you go
Bethany shares a few important reminders:
• Watch out for tiny hedgehogs
“Hedgehogs will be having babies this time of year, so it’s vital that you stay well away from a hedgehog nest. If you disturb it, mum may abandon or eat her babies.”
• You can ask for assistance
Photos courtesy of Hedgehog Friendly Campus