New report rings true in Suffolk

Just yesterday a new report highlighted our most up to date understanding of hedgehog population trends – our press release can be found below!

Towns like Ipswich are becoming increasingly important refuges for hedgehogs as rural populations continue to decline. 

A new report published by British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species has found the number of hedgehogs in rural landscapes is continuing to fall. In contrast, it shows that the rate of decline in towns and cities is slowing, and might even be improving.

The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 is a follow up to the 2015 report and brings together research from three surveys and the report draws on data from Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s own county-based survey. The full report can be read here.

In 2016, backed by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), Suffolk Wildlife Trust launched a campaign to make Ipswich the most hedgehog friendly town in the UK. This came after previous county-wide surveys indicated encouraging numbers in and around the town centre. Since then, hedgehog officer Ali North has been galvanizing support and recruiting ‘hedgehog champions’ who are urging their friends and neighbours to link up gardens and create networks of ‘Hedgehog Highways’ where hedgehogs can move through safely.

Although urban hedgehog populations declined by up to a third since 2000, the news that this fall may be stabilising is hugely welcomed and a cause for celebration and thanks to all who are helping hedgehogs where they live. Ali welcomed the news saying: “It’s really promising to see that the fortunes of urban hedgehog populations could be improving, and that the simple actions individuals are taking, really are making a difference. There are lots of ways the residents of Ipswich can help hedgehogs in their own gardens and streets, from creating a hedgehog-sized hole in a fence, to championing hedgehogs and encouraging neighbours to link their gardens too! Come along to a talk, workshop or hedgehog survey this summer to learn more about the plight of this well-loved British species, and how we can collectively make a positive impact for local hedgehog populations.”

Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for the national Hedgehog Street campaign added: “We are really encouraged to see projects like the Ipswich hedgehog project raising awareness of hedgehog decline and what people can do to help them. Suffolk Wildlife Trust is doing fantastic work to promote hedgehog conservation through the creation of Hedgehog Highways in Ipswich, allowing hedgehogs to roam through the night.  Emily continued: “This is a great example of community engagement which is what Hedgehog Street is all about! Hedgehog Street, run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species & the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, aims to ensure that hedgehogs, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life, and Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s work is certainly helping us to spread the word.”

Integral to Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s efforts to turn around the fortunes of hedgehogs in Ipswich and more widely in Suffolk, has been the collection of sightings records, and this is as important now as it ever has been. The more records collected, the more the Trust can do to identify areas where conservation action should be targeted and feed Suffolk data into national findings, like this report. Ali is now collecting habitat as well as sightings data, she said: “We need to hear about the actions you are already taking – you can log hedgehog friendly gardens on our online map, and tell us more about your Hedgehog Highways, wild areas and nest boxes.” Submit your hedgehog-friendly garden records and hedgehog sightings, here.

To date the campaign has enjoyed wide support. Last year a giant hedgehog mural was created in the town centre by street artist ATM and BBC Suffolk’s breakfast show host Mark Murphy launched the initiative live on air. Hearing of the report he said: “I’m thrilled that the work we’ve done alongside the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to raise awareness of the plight of the hedgehog is working. More and more people are now making holes in their fences to enable the hedgehogs to move from garden to garden. Lots more hedgehog hotels are installed in peoples gardens too. But we can’t rest on our laurels. If we want this wonderful animal to survive we must keep looking out for them and continue to give them a helping hand.” he campaign has enjoyed parliamentary support too, with MP for Ipswich Sandy Martin recently adding a hedgehog hole to his wildlife friendly garden in the town.

Sandy martin hedgehog highway

The campaign has enjoyed parliamentary support too, with MP for Ipswich Sandy Martin recently adding a hedgehog hole to his wildlife friendly garden in the town.

We need to talk about the countryside

However, it’s not all good news and as the report highlights, numbers of hedgehogs are still declining at a concerning rate in the wider countryside. Several reasons are cited for this, such as intensive agricultural practices that lead to fewer hedgerows and sources of food, pressure from roads, and predation. Suffolk Wildlife Trust works closely with farmers and landowners to encourage good environmental practices, and a growing number of land managers are embracing wildlife-friendly approaches to farming and seeing increased numbers of farmland birds, arable plants and invertebrates. The Trust is now hopeful that changes outlined in the Government’s recent 25 Year Plan for the Environment will translate into tangible actions that embrace a landscape-scale approach to conservation and encourage species like hedgehog back into the countryside. At a national level, with approximately 70% of land in the UK managed by farmers, BHPS and PTES are planning to engage more closely with the farming community, as Emily Wilson highlights: “Farmers play a vital role in producing food, but they’re also well placed to help protect, maintain and enhance our countryside. The Government recently reiterated plans to reform the EU Common Agricultural Policy to reward landowners for delivering environmental benefits. Many farmers already have a sustainable approach to agriculture, and we think there’s a great opportunity to work more widely with them to stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs.”