Sussex University is to analyse hedgehog numbers amid fears the population may have halved in just five years.
The warning that hedgehog numbers could have dropped so far so fast came from Sussex University environmental biology professor Fiona Mathews at the start of an ambitious survey into current population levels.
Professor Mathews, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning (Tuesday 7 November) that the precise scale of decline in the UK’s hedgehog population remained unclear.
Previous surveys indicated that numbers may have dropped between 2 per cent and 50 per cent.
She warned that a shortage of food could be a key reason for the hedgehog decline due to the conversion of lawns into parking spaces and the high use of pesticides in gardens.
The Mammal Society is launching its annual Hedgehog Watch survey which will run until Friday 1 December and is encouraging as many residents as possible to take part in reporting hedgehog sightings. The survey data collected will be analysed at Sussex.
Professor Mathews, the Mammal Society’s chair, said: “Although many people never see hedgehogs, in other areas they seem to be thriving.
“We need to find out why that is, so we can give start to help them to recover.
“Even a population decline at the lower end of estimates could be devastating if it continues unchecked.
“So we want people to tell us whether or not they saw a hedgehog last year.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty over how much hedgehog numbers are declining and that is why the Hedgehog Watch Survey is so important to give us a better understanding of the current situation.”
Professor Mathews said that people could help by making their gardens more hedgehog friendly including leaving messy areas in their gardens where hedgehogs could find beetles and other bugs to eat.
She also suggested homeowners could help by leaving food out for hedgehogs, suggesting a mixture of cat or dog food (avoiding fish flavours), sunflower hearts and even Weetabix to help them fatten up for the winter.
She added: “We are familiar with the idea of feeding birds to help them through the winter but we are not sure whether other animals are now becoming dependent on extra food from people.”