Cafe Scientifique: Hedgehogs – why we should worry and what we can do

This week I attended a virtual Didcot Cafe Scientifique event, all about hedgehogs. It was such a fascinating talk by hedgehog expert Hugh Warwick that I thought I’d share some of his amassed knowledge with you. I hope this is useful as I know most parts of Didcot have hedgehogs.

Cafe Scientifique

During usual times Cafe Scientifique, organised by Didcot First, is held at the Cornerstone at 7.30pm on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. The meetings have been held via Zoom in recent months, but will hopefully revert to in-person meetings in the not too distant future. Topics vary from hedgehogs to gas detection, penguins to 5G. If you’d like to find out more about future events you can join the mailing list by emailing cafesci@didcotfirst.org.

Introducing Hugh Warwick

This month’s Cafe Scientifique speaker was Hugh Warwick, an ecologist and writer specialising in hedgehogs. He’s the spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, runs courses in hedgehog conservation and talks to all kinds of groups about hedgehogs. Oh, and he’s probably the only hedgehog stand-up comic in the world.

Why did the hedgehog cross the road?

Because of the failure of the planning system.

OK, perhaps he’s not a great comedian. But it was a light-hearted introduction to a serious topic.

Hugh’s talk started with an overview of the challenges facing hedgehogs. Since 2000 it’s estimated that urban hedgehogs have reduced in numbers by a third and rural hedgehogs have reduced by half.

Why is the population declining?

Rural hedgehogs are suffering from the impacts of industrialised agriculture. Farmers have removed the hedgerows that hedgehogs depend on for safety, food and shelter. The removal of hedges, and widespread use of pesticides, has created an ecological desert and hostile landscape.

In towns hedgehogs face increased traffic; Hugh estimated around 100,000 hedgehogs, 20% of the population, die on our roads each year. However, this is only part of the issue. Hedgehogs roam widely in order to find food and depend on our back gardens to provide it. If we’ve paved them or enclosed them with a 6ft fence they’re no good for hedgehogs.

Busy roads and inaccessible gardens leads to fragmentation of habitat. Male hedgehogs have a 30 hectare home range; too much of our suburban landscape is off limits to them.

Hedgehog holes

So what can we do? Hugh is promoting a simple solution to help urban hedgehogs access our back gardens. Simply cut a hedgehog sized hole, 13cm x 13cm, in the bottom of your fence or gate. This will allow hedgehogs access to your garden to look for food.

I can attest to this. We made a small hole last year and almost immediately started to get hedgehog visitors. Many hedgehogs are just coming out of hibernation at present so why not make them a hedgehog hole this weekend?

If you do spot hedgehogs or make a hedgehog hole, please log it on the Hedgehog Street map.

Hedgehog petition

Whilst individual householders can do their bit Hugh is keen to make hedgehog holes mandatory in all new housing developments (particularly relevant around here). His petition, for a hedgehog highway now has almost 1 million signatures. Do sign it here if you can! There is also an associated Facebook group, called Hedgehog Highways.

Making your garden hedgehog friendly

As well as enabling access to your garden Hugh had other suggestions for making your garden hedgehog friendly. For example, leaving a wild area, not using chemicals, providing fresh water, and ensuring there is a ramp out of your pond if you have one. If you plan to supplementary feed hedgehogs one of the best options is dry kitten kibble. Do not provide anything with milk in it.

Lastly if you see a hedgehog out in the daytime it is almost certainly ill. Pop it in a box straight away and contact a wildlife rescue for assistance.

Hugh encouraged us to take the hedgehog garden challenge to see how suitable our gardens are for hedgehogs.

Learn more about hedgehogs

If you want to learn more Hugh has written three books about hedgehogs:

Hugh Warwick hedgehog books
Hugh Warwick hedgehog books

Alternatively if you’d like to watch a similar version of Hugh’s talk head over the the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website.

And finally a plug (from me, not Hugh) for the Wild in Didcot Facebook group. If you’re interested in local wildlife please do join!

One Reply to “Cafe Scientifique: Hedgehogs – why we should worry and what we can do”

  1. I just want to say – thank you so much for this site. I moved to Didcot from London at the end of last year and l am still finding my way around. Your blog is definitely helping 😃

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