Hedgehog research programme
To save the hedgehog, we must understand it. For such a popular and recognisable animal, hedgehogs are still poorly understood and this limits conservation efforts. This is why PTES and BHPS have invested £1.5 million on hedgehog research projects over the past five years.
Active research areas:
1. Monitoring hedgehogs
Our research program has produced the first robust survey method for the hedgehog, using footprint tracking tunnels to detect the presence or absence of hedgehogs at a particular site. Conservation is still hampered by the lack of a reliable way of estimating the density of hedgehogs at a site so current work involves testing a method called the Random Encounter Model (REM) to estimate this using a grid of trail cameras placed in gardens. Learn more about detecting hedgehogs using tracking tunnels…
2. Hedgehogs and arable farmland
National surveys have repeatedly suggested that the eastern counties of England are better for hedgehogs than the west, yet hedgehogs are also declining in these arable-dominated rural landscapes and appear to favour villages over farmland in these areas. What accounts for the hostility of farmland to hedgehogs? PhD theses by Anouschka Hof and Carly Pettett have looked in detail at these problems by radiotracking animals and investigating food availability, supplementary feeding and the influence of predators.
3. Hedgehogs and badgers
Badgers are the main natural predator of hedgehogs and many studies have demonstrated the complex interrelationship between these two iconic species; animals that both also compete for beetles and worms. Climate change has favoured badgers in recent years, but our National Hedgehog Survey found a range of rural sites where both species seem to be co-existing. Is this coexistence a stable situation? Are there certain features or management regimes that favour coexistence? What are the environmental triggers that cause the relationship to shift from competition to predation? There is much to understand.
Hedgehogs are one of only two terrestrial mammals to hibernate in the UK, the other being the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius (a PTES priority species). Very little research has been done on hibernation in hedgehogs, but they spend the best part of half their year in this state. To study hibernating hedgehogs you need to radio-track them, and ideally periodically weigh them and record their body condition. We also need to know more about where hedgehogs hibernate, how frequently they move nests and when the periods of high mortality are.
5. The urban environment
We have lost up to third of our urban hedgehogs since 2001, yet settlements can also hold the highest densities of hedgehogs and villages have been shown to be attractive to animals in rural landscapes. But how many gardens does a hedgehog need? Where do they nest? How significant are the effects of supplementary feeding? What are the biggest threats? Radiotracking of hedgehogs in suburbia is notoriously difficult, so improvements in the accuracy of GPS may hold the key.
6. Hedgehogs and roads
Roads affect hedgehogs in two major ways: vehicles kill hedgehogs and traffic or infrastructure can prevent them from moving freely around. We are currently looking at the genetics of hedgehog populations around major roads to see if the latter is changing gene flow in wild hedgehogs. Our research has shown that the former appears to be much more of an issue that was previously thought, and we now need to study the various mitigation options for roads (e.g. tunnels, green bridges, fencing) and try and get effective solutions implemented much more widely. Are there roadkill hotspots for hedgehogs? Are the effects of roads different in rural areas versus urban areas? How can we improve the accuracy of national mortality estimates?
European Hedgehog Research Group
PTES administrates this group of around sixty researchers from Belgium, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, France and Great Britain. Based around a Google Group, it is designed to encourage research and discussion about into all our hedgehog species. There have also been several meetings of the group in various countries. If you are involved in hedgehog research and would like to join, please get in touch!
We have compiled a list of some key hedgehog papers written by academics across Europe who are studying hedgehog ecology and populations. Summaries of all of these papers can be found here. Or you can get an overview of the status of the hedgehog population in the UK in our current State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report.