Building tunnels for hedgehogs
Hedgehogs have often been voted the UK’s most loved animal. They also play an essential role in the wild and yet they are under threat. There are many reasons for their decline including increased urbanisation, intensification of farming practices and continued development of transport infrastructure across the country, including road building. Many hedgehogs are killed by traffic each year and road construction also impacts how easily hedgehogs are able to move around. Some roads may actually be complete barriers for them, meaning populations are becoming isolated from one another.
Hedgehogs, roads & tunnels
One way to reduce the negative impacts of roads on our wild animals is to create safe crossing places, such as under-road tunnels. These tunnels not only make secure passages for animals to avoid being hit by vehicles, but they also enable individual hedgehogs to travel safely between populations and habitats. Tunnels come in many shapes and sizes, and previous research has shown they can be successful in helping species such as great crested newts and deer. However, there have been no studies yet looking into whether they can help our hedgehogs.
PTES has teamed up with Nottingham Trent University Ph.D. student Lauren Moore to investigate. Matt Mitchell has joined the team as one of PTES’ wildlife conservation interns. Matt is helping Lauren gather evidence at the tunnels to see if and how hedgehogs use them, where they can be most effective and which type works best.
Using cameras to capture hedgehogs
Lauren and Matt are using lots of different methods to understand how hedgehogs use road tunnels at several sites across the UK. Road tunnels have been built in many different types of areas including nature reserves and developed, private land. This is useful because these varied sites provide a snapshot of many different types of habitat that hedgehogs use. The team are working out how many hedgehogs there are in each area and then track them to see how they move around the landscape. Matt and Lauren are using GPS technology to track their movements and using camera traps to measure how often hedgehogs use the tunnels instead of crossing the road.
These extensive surveys will help us find out whether hedgehogs prefer a particular habitat and tunnel type. This information can then be used by Highways England and developers who need to understand what types of mitigation work best, and which are the most cost-effective. Camera traps are also useful because they will help us see what other species use tunnels to safely roam through the landscape. That means Matt’s research has a chance to help a broader range of our wildlife, not just hedgehogs.
As the UK’s road network continues to grow, this research couldn’t come at a more critical time to help our beloved hedgehogs.