Supporting urban wildlife

Sara Blackburn, Nature Counts Project Co-ordinator Credit: Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust
Biodiversity is an important part of our heritage which HLF is committed to protecting. Despite hedgehogs being a treasured species, their sights and sounds could become a thing of the past. Sara Blackburn, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT) Nature Counts Co-ordinator tells us how they helping hedgehogs.

Hedgehog Heroes

The Nature Counts project is helping to raise awareness of several important species, including otters and hedgehogs, and encouraging local people to take an interest in them, record information about where they live and make small improvements to help provide homes and habitats for them. SRWT is calling for Sheffield’s residents to tell them about the hedgehogs their see in their patch.  People are being encouraged to report sightings of the threatened spiny species to help the SRWT assess how ‘hogs are faring across Sheffield.

Hedgehogs in decline

Hedgehogs are threatened throughout Britain and have been declining in number for decades. In the past ten years alone their nationwide population has plummeted by 30%, mainly due to agricultural intensification, habitat fragmentation in urban areas and road traffic accidents. As hedgehogs and other species such as the common frog and the song thrush suffer a decline in rural areas, urban and suburban gardens are becoming increasingly important havens for wildlife. However, with gardens becoming increasingly paved, fenced landscaped, an estimated 50,000 hedgehogs are killed on our roads each year as they travel farther and wider in search of food and mates.

How local people can help?

Information booklets encouraging local people to become Hedgehog Heroes, complete with handy hedgehog sighting forms and useful information about how they can help protect Britain’s most beloved species have been distributed.

Wildlife-friendly gardening advice includes tips such as checking overgrown vegetation before strimming, installing hedgehog ladders in ponds and removing materials hazardous to hedgehogs such as low-lying netting and slug pellets are helping people to improve their gardens for hedgehogs. People are also encouraged to install hedgehog homes in their back gardens and cut holes in the bottom of garden fences to help connect habitats for hedgehogs. Sightings in their hundreds are already being recorded on the Wildlife Trust’s hedgehog map, and markers are added every week through submissions to our online reporting form.

Nature detectives

But the fun really starts with hedgehog footprint tunnels. We’re supporting people to use the PTES’ recommended small mammal survey method that is as good as guaranteed to reveal even the shyest ‘hog. Four items are all that is needed to conduct a simple survey of garden visitors: a plastic tunnel, paper, charcoal ink (a wildlife-friendly concoction) and of course, bait.

Hogs and any other hungry creature on the hunt are lured by the irresistible smell of cat food and enter the tunnel, scurrying over pads of ink and paper to reach it. What’s left are trails of little – and sometimes, surprisingly large – inky footprints leading to the bait, and ultimately, the exciting revelation of a whole host of previously unseen garden visitors. Surveys have already been successfully conducted in local gardens and school grounds.

Tell-tale human-like hedgehog handprints have been discovered alongside prints of foxes, rats, mice, squirrels, cats and even badgers, and of course, the inevitable slugs and snails. The project has inspired people to buy or make hedgehog homes for their gardens and teachers to organise further hedgehog-related classroom activities with one teacher describing her class’s experience as ‘magical’.

No matter your age, or whether you conduct the survey alone or with family and friends, you’re guaranteed to feel a spark of excitement and curiosity when you check the tunnel after a night of nocturnal activity. Meryl Varty, who carried out a tunnel surveys for Nature Counts as part of her MSc project with the University of Sheffield, says finding hedgehog footprints “is like waking up on Christmas morning for an entire week!”

Get involved

In order to really have an impact, we’ve launched a Hedgehog Hero Appeal which will help us extend our survey work to better understand the hedgehog population in Sheffield and to further our work with local communities, helping them to take practical steps to make their gardens more hedgehog-friendly.

Nature Counts’ Hedgehog Heroes project is running until the end of 2017 so, if you see a hedgehog around Sheffield, report it to the Trust via their online reporting form. Or why not go the whole hog and sign up for a survey? Nature Counts is running a free tunnel survey workshop on Wednesday 26 October. Every record counts, no matter how brief the sighting or, sadly, squished the ‘hog. –The future as it stands for the hedgehog may look bleak at present, but there is still time to change the species’ fate and our back gardens are the perfect place to start. There’s certainly a light at the end of the tunnel!

Feeling inspired?

If you’ve been inspired and want to apply for funding to help protect and share your natural heritage with local communities then find out more about our Yorkshire's back garden campaign to raise awareness of the importance of natural heritage on our doorstep and our funding opportunities. To keep up-to-date with the campaign, follow us on Twitter and look out for the hashtag #HLFnature.

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