We need to act now to protect the UK’s dwindling hedgehog population
We need to initiate a step-change in the long-term prospects of the hedgehog population. Enhancing their protections is good starting point.
The hedgehog is regularly voted as Britain’s most popular wild mammal. We all love them, but their numbers are under serious threat. The most recent report from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society indicates that there may be as few as one million hedgehogs left in the UK today. This might sound like a big number, but it is actually a decrease of over 50 per cent in the last 20 years.
Lockdown has focused our minds and made us re-evaluate our lives. I’m glad, because the environment has taken even more of a centre stage and heightened the understanding of the delicately constructed ecosystems on which our society is built. Perhaps these factors, along with our fondness of them, have caused over 100,000 people to put their names to a petition, calling on Parliament to discuss the protection afforded to hedgehogs.
Despite our love of these special creatures, how much do we really understand about them. Perhaps you didn’t know that hedgehogs are one of only three animals to hibernate in the United Kingdom. They are lactose intolerant and prefer that you leave cat or dog food out for them with some water. We all know they only come out at night, but they’re also pretty quick when they want to be and can run over six feet per second!
They’re dwindling numbers is what is causing many to be concerned. It is alarming and we need to start acting now, to reverse this trend.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is asking for hedgehogs to be moved from schedule six to schedule seven of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 to allow them greater protections. However, the seventh Quinquennial Review of Schedules five and eight of the Act, potentially provides recommendations to DEFRA on major changes to these schedules. This 2021 review seeks to change the ‘Eligibility Criteria’ of the hedgehog, currently listed on schedule six. It is proposed that the country-based statutory nature conservation bodies will only retain protected status for species that are in imminent danger of extinction in Great Britain.
By gardening in a wildlife-friendly way we can help our prickly little friends and help protect them in our own backyards
This shift in focus will preferentially consider GB Red Listed species, as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The effect of the proposed changes could mean that rather than increasing protection for hedgehogs, their current minor level of protection may be removed.
I know from having visited ‘Hedgehog Haven’, a local organisation in my constituency, committed to the protection of hedgehogs, just how important governmental action is in upholding our collective custodial responsibility, owed to these animals. Experts at the centre outlined their satisfaction with the decision to ban the keeping of hoglets following an amendment to this effect, in the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Having also been working in Parliament on the Environmental Audit Select Committee, I am aware that more needs to still be done to protect and enhance our domestic ecosystems. However, we’ve highlighted the fact that hedgehogs’ health and their quantity, are one of the best indicators of a healthy micro-environment.
Whilst the work that the government continues to do is welcome, I want to see this debate really initiate a step-change in the long-term prospects of the hedgehog population. I think that for us to up-end the statistics, there are a few salient issues that should be addressed. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s review must strengthen protective legislation for hedgehogs and as we saw in the Environmental Audit Committee’s recent findings on biodiversity in the UK, we have more to do. Enhancing protection for our precious hedgehog is good starting point.
Let’s not forget that everyone’s contribution is important. The hedgehog is known as the “gardener’s friend” because it eats caterpillars, beetles and other critters. Combined, our gardens provide a space for wildlife larger than all our National Nature Reserves and so by gardening in a wildlife-friendly way we can help our prickly little friends and help protect them in our own backyards.
Duncan Baker is the Conservative MP for North Norfolk.
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