A prickly Armageddon?

Michael Blencowe, Community Wildlife Officer at Sussex Wildlife Trust is calling for people to take part in a spiky, snuffling survey.

The animal I most associate with bonfire night is the hedgehog.
Unfortunately it’s not a particularly positive association. We stack up a pile of sticks and they nestle down in there for a daytime snooze and wake up in the middle of the final scene of the Wicker Man.

log pile

Photo: Dave Kilbey

But these unfortunate accidental barbeques are but a spiky pin-prick compared to what is happening to the numbers of our hedgehogs nationally. There were an estimated 30 million of them snuffling about in the 1950s. By the 1990s a survey estimated that only 2 million were left. A more recent study suggests that we can now half this number again.

The first time this dramatic loss really struck me was last Wednesday.
While unlocking my front door I heard a noise both strange and instantly familiar and I spun around to see a hedgehog rummaging through a pile of leaves. I can’t help but smile when I see a hedgehog. Maybe I’m fondly recalling childhood hedgehog encounters, maybe it’s their association with cheese and pineapple or simply the fact that they look funny. Either way my smile was cut short by a sudden realisation that I hadn’t seen one of these animals in years. I last bumped into one when I was staggering back from an Inspiral Carpets gig in Brighton. That was in 1994! Will I have to wait another seventeen years to see my next hedgehog?


Photo: Elli Saunders

According to some recent estimates seventeen years will be too late.
Some researchers believe the British hedgehog will be extinct by 2025.
There are many reasons for this prickly Armageddon. Pesticide use has left them with less slugs, snails, beetles and other bugs to eat and changes in farming practice means that there are simply less hedges to hog.
Our own urges to tidy up and fence off our gardens don’t help our spiky friends either. Consider leaving a corner of your garden to grow a bit wilder to provide them with food and a home.

During November evenings hedgehogs will be feeding to ensure they have enough fat reserves for hibernation. The Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre is keen to receive records of hedgehogs – so I’m asking you to keep an eye (and ear) out in your gardens and around town. If you see a hedgehog contact Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre with the date and the location where you saw it.