Hedgehogs seem to be having a bit of a crisis generally and especially in the West Country – including round here.
Reading and Nottingham Trent universities got footprint tracking tunnels laid at 261 likely sites in England and Wales over 2014-2015 and published the results a week ago in the journal Scientific Reports.
Hedgehog traces were found at only one location in five nationally and none at all in Devon, Dorset and Somerset. There was one claimed find in Cornwall but it was never properly verified, so officially almost the whole of the south west scored nil.
The idea in the first place was to measure the impact of badgers, which compete with hedgehogs for food and treat them as prey. There were signs that badgers had an effect, but co-existence was clearly possible. The surprise finding was that there were neither badgers nor hedgehogs in many places they would have been expected – which suggests another factor.
The author of the paper, Ben Williams, thinks agriculture and climate change are reducing the supply of earthworms and other invertebrates, which both species feed on.
He told the Horrabridge Times: “We had seven sites in Devon – mainly South Devon. I can’t say exactly where because we were using Defra information on badger sett locations to some extent. It’s a very small sample and Dartmoor and Exmoor would skew the Devon findings, because moorland is not good territory. But we would have expected to find one or two at least.”
The survey also drew a blank in Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and one county in Wales, although Wales was generally better than England. Gloucestershire and Hampshire found a couple, Kent had them at three sites out of six and Lancashire at five out of 17.
Colin Tyrrell, who fed and rescued hedgehogs in Horrabridge before moving to Gunnislake, said he was not surprised by the findings.
He said: “At one point we had 15 hedgehogs a night visiting, meaning 400-500 visits a month. Last year we did it, we were down to 120 over a month. They are still around but something has happened. I think it’s lack of food, which drives them onto the roads, looking for new territory, and then they get killed.”