The population of one of Britain's most beloved animals, the hedgehog, has been steadily declining in the last 15 years, a new study revealed. The number of hedgehogs has halved as urban development becomes more rapid and the population of badgers increases, experts said.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), along with the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), has been looking into the census of hedgehogs in Britain since 2011. And according to the report, the population of rural hedgehogs dropped to less than a million because of poor hedgerow management and intensive farming that destroys hedgehogs' habitats. Meanwhile, urban hedgehogs continue to face challenges caused by breakneck development such as the concreting-over and fencing-in of city gardens. Urban development contributes to a one-third decline in urban hedgehog population since the year 2000, the report said.

In rural areas, the growing field sizes and intensification of agriculture are reducing the prevalence of grasslands and hedgerows where hedgehogs reside. Badgers are also increasing in rural areas in the south of England, experts said. These badgers are hedgehogs' natural predator.

"These figures are pretty disturbing; it's pretty horrific really," said PTES's hedgehog officer Henry Johnson.

Johnson explained that hedgehogs need large areas of habitat so they can survive. These animals' urban surroundings are continuously being destroyed by various fencing, infrastructure and new developments, most especially "the change of suburbia from green to gray," he said.

There is less food for hedgehogs in rural areas, the hedgehog officer added. The number of slugs, worms, earwigs, caterpillars, beetles and millipedes are reducing because new methods in agriculture are affecting plant diversity.

Johnson further said badgers do significantly affect hedgehog population, but he is wary of blaming these animals as he does not want to encourage the government's controversial badger cull.

"I'm not saying it's nothing to do with badgers, but it's a simplification to point the finger at them alone," added Johnson.

Meanwhile, the PTES and the BHPS plan to conduct the National Hedgehog Survey in England and Wales in order to save these animals' declining population. The new study will be conducted in cooperation with experts from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Reading.

Photo : Karen Roe | Flickr

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