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How are roads impacting our hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs are a beloved and iconic species, yet hedgehog numbers have plummeted in recent decades. One issue may be the fact that in the UK we have a very dense road network. We know that hedgehogs are often killed on the roads. What we don’t know is how this impacts local rural populations.

250,000 hedgehogs killed every year

From our Mammals on Roads survey, we have estimated that 250,000 hedgehogs are killed every year in the UK. Although we don’t know how many hedgehogs there are in the UK, this is likely to represent a very high percentage of the overall population. However, there is no evidence to measure what true impact roads have on population decline. And as the UK’s road network continues to expand, this lack of information is cause for concern.

Now we’re monitoring up and down the country

Lauren Moore is just starting a long-term study at Nottingham Trent University, working with Dr Richard Yarnell and others, to determine what impacts roads are having on hedgehogs. She will try to understand what the risk of road mortality is for different individuals in a population, as well as the overall mortality rate. Lauren’s work will help us to understand whether road mortality is severe enough in particular areas to impact the persistence of a local population. We’re worried that in some areas, levels of road kill are so high, that a population cannot survive in the surrounding landscape. If this is happening, and on a large scale, it could be impacting the species more widely.

Lauren will use a combination of spotlight surveys, genetic sampling (hair, scat and tissue) and PIT tags to first estimate what the population size is at several locations across the UK. By monitoring roadkill at several sites in Nottinghamshire, she will also be able to determine the proportion of a population that is killed on roads annually, as well as the relationship between road mortality rates and population size. Lauren will need to gather information on other variables such a traffic volume, road type and sex of the hedgehogs to see if any of these contribute to higher numbers being killed on the roads.

We also need to think about how to address the problem. Unfortunately most of us need to drive. So Lauren is putting up camera traps in tunnels at six sites to see how often hedgehogs use them or whether they prefer to cross the road. If we find hot spots where more animals are being killed, knowing if they use tunnels, and what type, means that we have a solution to offer.

We hope this project can provide insights into how road-induced mortality compares to natural mortality and therefore what influence roads have on the future of hedgehogs in particular areas. We hope to engage planners and conservationists by providing guidance on evidence-based mitigation measures that really work, and can help provide a safer future for our hedgehogs.

This project is only possible thanks to our generous donors. Can you help by donating today? 

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