Island Life Magazine Ltd October/November 2011 - Page 76

COUNTRY LIFE Hedgehogs need corridors By Tiki Leggett, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust The hedgehog is one of our favourite mammals. But its populations have declined alarmingly in the last decade. Tiki Leggett, Assistant Biodiversity Officer, at the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust explains how a new project could help these endearing creatures. Amazingly, the hedgehog has been around for over 15 million years. Our hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, occurs across the continent and, at the end of the last Ice Age, was well established and widespread in Britain. However, hedgehog numbers are difficult to estimate. Like many smaller mammal species, they probably have ‘boom and bust’ years. They are notoriously difficult to survey, as they are both nocturnal and shy, and there is much we do not know about hedgehog behaviour. It’s a genuine concern that 76 everyone seems to agree that you just don’t see as many hedgehogs as you used to. Best estimates suggest that in the 1950s there were around 35 million animals. Today, there may be as few as a million – that’s just three percent of the original population. So what can be done for this iconic garden species? Wildlife corridors, intrinsic to the Wildlife Trusts’ vision of Living Landscapes, could be a solution. Corridors are the ‘wild’ spaces needed to connect areas of natural habitat and allow species to migrate and disperse. They buffer plants and animals from the effects of inbreeding, natural disasters, illness and predation. Corridors may need to be as large as river valleys and woodlands. But the smallest corridor in the right place, like a strategic hole in a garden fence, can make all the difference to some species, like hedgehogs. Our gardens are hotspots for many insects and refuges for garden birds, and seem to be the home of choice for the hedgehog. The Wildlife Trust’s Garden Wildlife Survey, launched in 2010, shows the relationship between hedgehogs and our gardens. Of the 500 plus contributors to the countywide survey, 180 reported seeing hedgehogs, alive and well, in their gardens. But, hedgehog radio tracking studies have revealed insights into the hedgehog’s habits. These suggest it is not our individual gardens that are chosen, but the broader urban habitat, which provides the food, nesting material and hibernation sites that hedgehogs require. The size of a hedgehog’s home range is surprising. Male hedgehogs routinely use a range over 20 hectares, which often overlaps with smaller