Friday, 14 September 2018

Most of countryside now devoid of hedgehogs, study finds

Something ‘fundamentally wrong’ in rural landscape, scientists say, with numbers thought to have fallen 80% since 1950s
Damian Carrington Environment editor
Thu 6 Sep 2018 14.00 BSTLast modified on Thu 6 Sep 2018 19.35 BST

A “perfect storm” of intensive farming and rising badger populations has left most of the countryside in England and Wales devoid of hedgehogs, according to the first systematic national survey.
The research used footprints left by hedgehogs in special tunnels to reveal that they were living at just 20% of the 261 sites surveyed. Hedgehogs, which topped a vote in 2013 to nominate a national species for Britain, were significantly less common where badgers were more numerous. Badgers eat hedgehogs and also compete for the beetles and worms the prickly animals consume.
However, hedgehogs and badgers lived alongside each other in half the hedgehog sites, while a quarter of all the sites had neither animal, showing the destruction of habitat such as hedgerows and coppices was also a major factor.
 “There are lots of areas in the countryside that are not suitable for hedgehogs or badgers,” said Ben Williams, at the University of Reading, who led the new work. “There is something fundamentally wrong in the rural landscape for those species and probably lots of other species as well,” such as birds and shrews.
Previous work based on visual sightings and roadkills indicated that the number of hedgehogs living in the British countryside has plummeted by more than half since 2000. Historical hedgehog numbers are hard to estimate, but scientists think populations have fallen by at least 80% since the 1950s.


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