Hedgehogs in decline
Over the past 50 years, the number of hedgehogs in the UK has dropped dramatically, from an estimated 30 million hedgehogs in the 1950s to just 1.5 million in the mid-1990s. A major cause of this decline is believed to be changes in habitat, with loss of hedgerows, alteration in agricultural practices and the spread of urban development all affecting the hedgehog’s survival.
Scientists now believe that climate change may also be contributing to the hedgehog’s decline. Research carried out by Dr Pat Morris in the 1970s showed that temperature influences when a hedgehog emerges from hibernation, with hedgehogs in the south emerging three weeks earlier than those in Scotland. The increase in global temperatures associated with climate change could therefore have a big impact on the hibernation behaviour of hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs usually hibernate between November and the end of March, to conserve energy when food is scarce. Mild temperatures may cause hedgehogs to delay hibernating, use fat reserves more quickly during hibernation or awaken from hibernation early. All of these may impact on the hedgehog’s ability to survive.
To investigate whether hedgehogs are being affected by climate change, The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) are encouraging people to record their hedgehog sightings, and enter them online. It is hoped the information gathered will provide scientists with a better understanding of how the hedgehog is responding to rising temperatures in the UK.
The average temperature in the UK has increased by around 0.5°C since the 1950s, and hedgehogs are not the only species to potentially be affected by climate change. Many species of plant, insect and bird have been shown to emerge or breed earlier in the year, with some species also shifting their range in response to rising temperatures. For more information on species affected by climate change, visit ARKive’s climate change pages.
Read more on the story on the BBC News site: Public request for climate hedgehog study.
To find out how to get involved with the survey, visit Hedgehog Street.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author