National Mammal Week 2020: Day 8: Urban & Gardens
Nottingham Trent University PhD candidate Lauren Moore is studying the impact of roads on mammalian demography, with a particular focus on the impact of road mortality on local hedgehog populations in the UK….
There are few animals in the UK as recognisable or loved than the hedgehog, with this spiny creature regularly topping the popularity polls and voted the UK’s favourite mammal. It is no challenge to understand why. Hedgehogs are woven into the cultural fabric of the country, present in fables and folklore, children’s stories and even road safety adverts of the late 1990s and early 2000s. This small and hesitant animal solidified a place in the country’s hearts through its affinity to residential areas. Some people have the privilege of seeing hedgehogs at dusk or on camera traps as they scurry around our lawns; others only see signs of hedgehog presence in the garden. These signs include hedgehog scat – dark brown or black cylindrical droppings around 5cm long – or, slightly harder to spot, a pile of leaves in a quiet area (e.g. under a hedge).
Once a species that predominantly roamed in woodland and rural areas, hedgehogs are now drawn to our towns and cities. In fact, hedgehog densities are far higher in urban areas compared to rural areas, with 32 hedgehogs per km2 vs 4 hedgehogs per km2, respectively. Moreover, urban hedgehog populations have shown slower declines over recent decades compared to rural populations.
Clearly, urban areas are a stronghold for the species, yet these areas present a stark paradox in conservation. Urbanisation is culpable for the destruction of wilderness and nature around the world, of turning luscious forests into concrete jungles and tarmac. However, urban areas simultaneously provide novel opportunities and resources for a range of wildlife to exploit. Foxes and racoons are famed for scavenging in rubbish bins, house mice benefit from the warmth of our buildings and bats gorge on the invertebrates that our garden flora support.
Hedgehogs spend a large amount of time in gardens, where they benefit from hordes of invertebrates in our flowerbeds, the scraps and pet food put out by homeowners, the ample nesting spots along the hedgerows or under sheds, as well as the relative safety from natural predators such as badgers. Urban areas are so primed with advantages that city-dwelling hedgehogs are able to have smaller home ranges than their rural counterparts and still find sufficient food, mates and nesting resources.
However, metropolitan life isn’t always easy. Many gardens, new and old, have impenetrable fences that make it difficult for ground-dwelling animals such as hedgehogs to access the resources inside. When forced to look for resources elsewhere, hedgehogs are faced with another danger: traffic. Approximately 250,000 hedgehogs are killed on UK roads every year. As the majority of traffic is concentrated in and around urban areas, hedgehog face treacherous danger when roaming around our towns and cities. Tidiness is also the enemy of hedgehogs. Neat gardens and urban parks remove the food and nesting materials, such as leaves, brambles and logs, that hedgehogs need to survive throughout the year.
How can you help?
Cut a small hole (the size of a CD) in your garden fence, have wild or messy corners in your gardens (e.g. with leaves and logs) to provide food and nesting materials for hedgehogs year-round.
You can also help us to build our knowledge of hedgehogs and other mammals by downloading our Mammal Mapper app and recording what you see. You can download it for free from your app store and all who register during Mammal Week will be entered into a draw to win a prize! Read more about Mammal Mapper here
If you don’t have a smartphone you can still record your mammal signs and sightings using our online recording form found here