Hedgehog Population Declining in UK: Conservationists Call On Homeowners For Help [VIDEO AND PHOTOS]
Hedgehogs – those adorable, tiny, spiny-furred critters that are becoming increasingly popular as pets are need of some assistance. Since 2003, hedgehog populations have been declining drastically throughout the UK as a result of garden pesticide use and the destruction of their shrubby homes as homeowners continue to replace local floral with fences.
As part of a campaign known as Hedgehog Street, homeowners across the UK are being asked to build makeshift houses and to cut holes in their fences to keep hedgehogs from being isolated and to make it easier for them to feed and mate. Holes about the size of a music CD are enough for a hedgehog to get through a fence, reports the Daily Mail.
Hedgehogs were appropriately named for their behavioral characteristics. The small animals tend to search through hedges and other undergrowth using their long snouts. They prefer to dine on small creatures such as insects, worms, centipedes, snails, mice, frogs, and snakes – a diet that has been dubbed a "gardener's best friend." Hedgehogs also tend to be loud chewers, making a distinctive pig-like snort as they scarf up their dinners. They are nocturnal and spend their days cozied up in nests under bushes or thick shrubs.
Aside for its cuteness, a hedgehogs most distinguishable characteristic is its thick, spiny coat that somewhat resembles a porcupines quill-coat. However, unlike the poisonous and barbed quills of porcupines, the 5000 hallow and springy spines on a hedgehog's back keep them warm, protect them from wet weather and make them look bigger to and more dangerous to hungry predators. When they feel threatened, hedgehogs resort to curling up into a tight ball to protect their vulnerable stomachs.
In total, there are 15 different species of hedgehogs that can be found living throughout parts of Europe, Asisa, Africa and New Zealand. However, current estimates suggest that hedgehog populations have plummeted below one million in the UK. This is a 37 percent decrease from the 1950 population estimates that reported 36.5 million hedgehogs living in the UK.
"Most of the reason is down to the change in the way we manage our countryside – the loss of hedgerows and woodlands has removed their habitat and the increase in the use of pesticides has removed a lot of the beetles and other animals they feed on," Mark Eaton, conservation scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told the Daily Mail.
We will loose sight of our spiny friends shortly, as they prepare to hibernate during the winter months in the UK. During the rest of October they will be eating as much as possible and storing leaf litter and grass to make warm winter nests.
The Hedgehog Street campaign, created by People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), is calling on nature lovers to help give the hedgehogs a home with the Big Hedgehog Map, an Internet-based crowdsourcing inititative that allows people to plot sightings of these animals – both dead and alive. Users can also zoom in and out to see where sightings are most common. If you spot a hedgehog in your neighborhood make sure to report it, and if you have a spare plastic box lying around, create a simple shelter for the animals instead of throwing it out.
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