Surrey Countryside Champions – Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group
Hedgehogs are often considered a stalwart of the British countryside, but they are currently classified as “vulnerable to extinction”. If we are to stabilise hedgehog populations and keep seeing our spiky little friends snuffling around our gardens, then we need to take action now.
That’s exactly what Charlotte, founder of Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group, has done. We caught up with Charlotte to find out more about hedgehogs and what we can do to support and encourage hedgehog populations in our area.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. What inspired you to start the Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group?
Thank you for featuring my group.
In 2019, I came across an online petition called “Help save Britain’s hedgehogs with ‘hedgehog highways’!” and found out that cutting a 13x13cm ‘Hedgehog Highway’ hole in the bottom of your garden fence can really help hedgehogs by allowing them to move between gardens to find food and mates.
In the following months, I learnt more about the many simple ways that we can help hedgehogs in our gardens, but I didn’t think that we had any hedgehogs in our area. Then last summer an exciting event happened; we got a video clip on our security camera of something moving in the garden. It was a hedgehog! It seemed that we did have hedgehogs in our village, but there weren’t many left so we needed to act quickly to stop them from disappearing completely. I bought a hedgehog house from a local hedgehog rescue who sold them, I signed up as a Hedgehog Champion on hedgehogstreet.org, and I put a hedgehog feeding bowl on my Christmas list. Finally, I felt like I could actually do something to make a difference, rather than just reading online about an animal I had never actually seen.
I wanted to spread the word to other residents about how to help hedgehogs and decided that an online group would enable me to reach lots of people and regularly share information. So I used my experience of educational outreach and public engagement to start the Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group. It started as just a Facebook group in November last year and has now grown to include an Instagram account and a website.
Why is protecting the hedgehog population important?
Hedgehogs have been around for millions of years, but recently there has been a huge decline in the population of European hedgehogs in Britain and hedgehogs are now classified as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ in the UK.
Habitat fragmentation, increased use of pesticides, reduced number of hedgerows, and overly ‘tidy’ gardens are just some of the reasons that there has been such a huge decline in hedgehog numbers. It is estimated that since the turn of the century urban hedgehog populations have declined by a third, and rural populations by half. If we don’t act now then this much loved mammal could disappear completely.
But the good news is that people are starting to fight back. With food sources and nesting sites, hedgehog friendly gardens are becoming a stronghold for hedgehogs in the UK and are helping urban hedgehog populations to begin to stabilise.
What can Surrey residents do to help hedgehogs in their garden?
There are many easy things that you can do in your garden which could really help local hedgehog populations. Here are some examples:
- Make a Hedgehog Highway by cutting a 13x13cm hole at the bottom of your fence (or digging a channel underneath your fence) so that hedgehogs can get through. Hedgehogs travel around 1 mile every night and need to be able to move between gardens to find food, nesting sites, and mates. Hedgehog Highways also reduce the number of times that hedgehogs have to cross the road and risk being hit by a vehicle.
- Stop using chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides. They can poison hedgehogs and reduce the amount of creepy crawly food available for them to eat.
- Make your pond safe by adding a ramp using a pile of stones or a piece of wood. Hedgehogs are good swimmers, but they will drown if they fall in a pond and can’t get out.
- Let part of your garden grow wild and make leaf and log piles. This provides hedgehogs with insects to eat, materials for nests, and places to hibernate.
- Avoid using chain link fencing and netting (including fruit netting) in your garden, as hedgehogs and other animals can get tangled in it. Tie up or raise up sports netting when not in use.
- Put shallow dishes of food and water out for hedgehogs. High meat content wet cat food or dry cat biscuits are ideal, but avoid fish flavours. Please don’t feed bread or mealworms to hedgehogs as these are not good for them, especially in large quantities. Please also provide fresh water NOT milk – hedgehogs are lactose intolerant!
- Check areas before strimming or mowing to avoid injuring nesting hogs who may be hiding amongst any overgrown or ‘untidy’ areas such as long grass, fallen leaves, or brambles.
- Check bonfires before burning. Hedgehogs love leaf and log piles and may move into your bonfire pile. So make sure to construct (or dismantle, move and reconstruct) the pile just before burning, and double check for hedgehogs before lighting.
- Provide shelter by buying or making a hedgehog house. Ensure that your hog house features a tunnel and/or staggered ‘baffle’ entrance to protect against predators, has a heavy roof or a brick placed on top to stop predators from pushing the roof off, and does not contain any harmful wood treatments or paint. Place the house in a sheltered, fully shaded position, and do not put food or water near it or inside it, as the smell will attract predators.
What can we all do make the local area more hedgehog friendly?
These are a few things that you can do to help hedgehogs in the local area:
- Pick up litter
Litter is a danger to many wild animals as they can become trapped or entangled in it. Hedgehogs in particular are prone to getting stuck or tangled in things as the direction of their spines means that they cannot always back out after walking forwards into or through something. If you see some litter and you can safely remove and dispose of it, then please do so. You may just be saving an animal’s life.
- Support your local rescue
One great thing that you can do is to find your nearest hedgehog rescue or wildlife hospital and fundraise for them or volunteer with them. Wildlife rescue centres work very hard to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured animals and return them to the wild, and they always need support to help them continue their lifesaving work.
- Hedgehog Highways for new housing developments
Stop further habitat fragmentation by helping to get Hedgehog Highways installed in new housing developments. You can do this by emailing us (email@example.com) when you see new housing developments being built in your area. Let us know the location of the development and the name of the development company and we will contact them to ask them to include Hedgehog Highways in the fences.
- Become a Hedgehog Champion
Sign up as a ‘Hedgehog Champion’ on hedgehogstreet.org. Hedgehog Street is a joint hedgehog conservation campaign by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. It is free to sign up as a Hedgehog Champion and it will give you access to resources to help spread the word about helping hedgehogs.
Why is supporting local wildlife important to you?
What we all do at a local level has an effect nationally. If everyone helped hedgehogs in their local area then it would stop the overall decline in hedgehog populations in the UK.
Helping all of our local wildlife is especially important in Surrey, since we are lucky enough to have some rare species here, such as Natterjack toads, smooth snakes, and hazel dormice.
We want Surrey to continue to be a home for both rare and common species. This way we can help save these species for future generations, as well as having the joy of seeing them ourselves.
How can people support the Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group?
You can follow our Instagram account @elmbridgehedgehogs for tips on how to help hedgehogs. We also have a Facebook group called ‘Elmbridge Hedgehog Conservation Group’ which you can join to report local hedgehog sightings and learn how we can work together to make our local area more hedgehog friendly. For top tips and information on what to do if you find a sick or injured hedgehog, check out our website elmbridgehedgehogs.wordpress.com.
If you want to get in touch then you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would love for you to join us in our efforts to make our local area more hedgehog-friendly!
What your favourite green space in Surrey to explore?
Anywhere with a pond or lake! I love looking for amphibians and water birds. I also love going on woodland walks to get some exercise and connect with nature. Since Surrey is the most wooded county in England there are lots of great woods to explore.