Hedgehogs’ Decline in Europe

Even hedgehogs, Europe’s only spiny mammals, are now declining. Amongst the main threats to the conservation of these animals are, unsurprisingly, habitat loss and pesticide use. Today, hedgehogs face extinction in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom1, France2, and Italy3. In the UK, hedgehogs have declined by 97% in the last 50 years1.

First, the fragmentation of natural landscapes mean that hedgehogs are less and less able to move across habitats, disperse and find new mates. Roads, which are usually what break up the habitats, also cause hedgehogs to get hit and squashed by cars.

Second, habitat loss, in terms of land-use change, is another cause of the hedgehogs’ decline. Many farm practices have switched from a crop-rotation method to monoculture in the last few decades. Such a switch involves the cutting down of hedgerows to replace the small crop fields with larger fields of one type of crop, usually wheat. While this activity can maximise the farms’ profits, hedgerows are a prime habitat for hedgehogs, and their loss can be detrimental to hedgehogs – as well as to many other species.

Lastly, the plummeting of insect populations in the last few decades4, especially due to pesticide use, means that hedgehogs’ prey availability is decreasing. Similarly, hedgehogs can die from ingesting slug pellets that are used in farms and household gardens.

Activities at the household level, such as creating corridors between gardens and backyards in semi-urban and urban areas, and avoiding the use of pesticides and slug pellets, can promote the conservation hedgehogs.

Some studies also suggest that badgers and foxes may predate upon, and decrease the number of, hedgehogs’ populations5. This may be an issue if the populations of the former increase due to anthropogenic activity.

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  1. https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/state-britains-hedgehogs-2018/
  2. http://planetepassion.eu/MAMMALS-IN-FRANCE/Hegdhog-or-Herisson-in-France.html
  3. https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/allarme-onu-rischio-estinzione-api-pipistrelli-scoiattoli-e-ricci-ABabgeuB
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/02/why-insect-populations-are-plummeting-and-why-it-matters/
  5. Pettett, C.E., Johnson, P.J., Moorhouse, T.P. and Macdonald, D.W., 2018. National predictors of hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus distribution and decline in Britain. Mammal review48(1), pp.1-6.

Featured image credits: https://bit.ly/2PwvwFz

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