Hedgehog numbers in Europe declining due to habitat loss | Science | In-depth science and technology reporting | DW

Hedgehogs are a common sight in gardens in some parts of Europe. But the first time Monika Thomas saw one was at a friend’s doctor’s office, where someone had brought one in for treatment. Now she sees these little animals every day.

Thomas, who is trained in medicine, established a hedgehog sanctuary called Netzwerk Igel in 2006. It is a non-profit organization located in Wuppertal, Germany, which provides care, food and shelter to nearly 500 orphaned or injured hedgehogs each year.

2022 is a year when hedgehog populations in Europe appear to be in steep decline.

Hedgehogs are a ‘vulnerable species’

There are indications that hedgehog populations are declining in Germany, as well as in other European countries. But the statistics are rare and experts say they can only estimate the true extent of the decline.

The Netzwerk Igel hedgehog sanctuary takes care of around 500 injured hedgehogs every year

A sanctuary in France described hedgehogs as “the polar bear of our gardens” and said climate change was affecting their ability to find food.

In February 2021, a British conservation group reported that the local countryside hedgehog population had declined by an average of 8.3% per year. over the past two decades.

Another UK report listed the species as “vulnerable to extinction”.

Hedgehog population decline linked to habitat loss

There may be more than one reason for declining hedgehog populations, and it may be making the problem more difficult to solve.

Carsten Schiller, who heads German conservation group Pro Igel, lists the destruction of natural habitats among the main causes.

Take, for example, Europe native species Erinaceus europaeusalso known as the Western European hedgehog or common hedgehog.

Erinaceus europaeus have lived on Earth for nearly 60 million years, making them one of the oldest surviving mammals. They tend to live in open landscapes.

But the expansion of monoculture — or monoculture — Agriculture, development of human settlements and the use of insecticides would displace hedgehogs from the foothills, grasslands and fields they usually inhabit.

“Based on the destruction of natural habitats by [human] activities, including soil sealing, we expect the hedgehog population to decline by up to 50% within a decade,” Schiller said.

Two hedgehogs feeding at a sanctuary in Wuppertal, Germany

Hedgehogs feed on insects and should not be fed food intended for human consumption

Floor sealing is the sealing of a porous floor by pouring concrete, for exampleposition. This cuts off access to food in the ground for many species, including hedgehogs.

Victims of climate change

When food is scarce, hedgehogs move from one territory to another. They can travel distances of up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) in a single night, the time of day when hedgehogs are most active.

Drought also affects hedgehogs as they feed on insects (they have an insectivorous diet). “Because of the drought, the soil becomes very hard. Plants that [host] these insects tend to retreat into the ground,” Thomas said.

Pesticides also kill insects and invertebrates that are part of a hedgehog’s diet.

Hedgehogs are also exposed to multiple risks when they change territory. They can end up on busy roads or get bitten by a dog – these are some of the most common emergencies Thomas sees at the Wuppertal sanctuary.

Need more stats and resources

Conservationists said the lack of data and lack of funding made it harder for them to tailor an appropriate response to the situation.

They called for more up-to-date statistics, but neither Germany nor any of its federal states have historical data that could serve as a benchmark for any monitoring conducted today.

Then there is the issue of funding. Another hedgehog sanctuary near Wuppertal had to close after operating for 35 years, leaving Netzwerk Igel to receive more emergency cases than ever before.

Overwhelmed and lacking sufficient resources, the sanctuary survives thanks to donations and the help of volunteers. “I can only hire a full-time person. We have no municipal support,” Thomas said.

We can all help hedgehogs

Despite the situation, Thomas says she remains positive: “I’m an optimist.”

Rescued Hedgehog Hiding Under Towel In Intensive Care After Accident

When hedgehogs are forced to leave their habitat in search of food, they often cross busy and dangerous roads

At Pro Igel, meanwhile, Schiller said environmental authorities should engage more with the issue and design initiatives to track native wildlife statistics.

“The conservation of our native species is linked to the preservation and creation of natural habitats,” he said.

But we can all help hedgehogs. If you see a hedgehog during the day, chances are this nocturnal animal is injured or vulnerable.

So if you find a hedgehog during the day, contact a local sanctuary or conservation group. They will know if it is an emergency and act accordingly.

But be aware that hedgehogs cannot eat human food. They need an insectivorous diet, and human food in large amounts or over long periods of time can harm them, Schiller explained.

Most emergencies received by Igel Netzwerk arrives during the summer. This happens because hedgehogs often seek refuge in residential backyards. But it’s also a time when people like to mow their lawns.

Thomas recommends letting part of your lawn grow wild, so hedgehogs can nest. And check the garden before you mow it, to see if you have any hedgehogs living there, especially if you are using a robot lawn mower, as these tools can injure them.

Published by: Zulfikar Abbey

Mary I. Bruner