The hedgehog is a defensive creature, as clearly exhibited in its evolutionary trajectory towards a coat of spikes.
Although said spikes have proven useful in fending off certain spectrums of the predatory world in which the little mammal crawls, humans remain a threat to be contended with.
As reported by the UK based Hedgehog advocacy group Hedgehog Road, the little mammal has been nearly annihilated in the last century with estimates of its population dropping in England, Wales and Scotland from 30 million in the 1950s to one million now.
In response, the UK’s Road Department has decided to issue a special hedgehog focused road sign which is intended to raise public attention to the problem, while decreasing the car-related death toll for the population.
This move follows previous efforts to draw attention to other animals threatened by various transportation, such as migrating toads, deers, and wildfowl.
The Broader Issues
Vehicle-related injury is only one part of a broader ecological crisis affecting an animal like the hedgehog.
As poignantly worded by Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for the campaign group:
“In an increasingly urbanised Britain, we choose to lose all that is complex and beautiful if we do not stand up for our wild animals and plants.”
The general decline of wildlife diversity is reasoned as a result of more intensive urbanization over the last century. As more and more land is taken up for intensive agriculture, less and less land is made available for the hedgehog and other animals.
As Wilson goes on to state: "This kind of barren one-crop landscape has removed the amount of area that hedgehogs can live in."
Wilson goes on, "The large-scale pesticide use has reduced the amount of food for them to eat - there are fewer invertebrates."
What is to be done?
Wilson and associates have turned towards a community advocacy direction. Through their initiative Hedgehog Street, they are developing knowledge about how humans can better accommodate hedgehogs in urban areas – foremost through landscaping measures that have particular suitability for the spiky mammal community.
The group incentivizes such community action through its 'Hedgehog Champions' list where a forum has been created for people to post photos of their hedgehog adapted gardens.
The State Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has taken a more structural approach to the problem by addressing large scale land shortages.
As a Defra official states: "We remain concerned about the decline in their population, and through our 25 Year Environment Plan we'll be creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat to provide benefits for species such as hedgehogs."
Through a Countryside Stewardship program, Defra has created 100,000 hectares of new habitat since 2011.
We can only hope that these combined efforts will truly curb the hedgehog populations' decline. It certainly seems that between the road-sign campaign, the land restoration movement and community-led gardening initiatives, the UK is making a stand for the mammal.
There may be positive results, as indicated in a recent study, which showed that in urban areas the hedgehog population has remained the same for the past couple of years.