What is going on? Where are the hedgehogs? Of course, there are many of you out there who have started to see the trickle of visitors come to your garden, but there is now evidence that this is a much slower and later trickle than usual.
I was at the Mammal Society’s annual meeting in Exeter at the weekend and was fascinated by the Mike Tom’s talk on how the other team can help us mammal fans. Mike is the Head of Garden Ecology at the British Trust for Ornithology and has been brilliant at helping us understand more of what we are seeing. He is also the recipient of jealousy inducing quantities of data.
There is something that the bird lovers do very well – collecting data. In fact in the BTO’s long-running Garden BirdWatch survey 15,000 people taking part are so keen that they actually pay to do the work.
In recent years there has been a move to branch out from just birds – and information is now collected on dragonflies, butterflies and other groups, including, of course, the hedgehog. And this has allowed them to plot a graph of when hedgehogs are being seen first in gardens, revealing a very clear picture of late emergence – around a month later than in 2011 and 2012.
Should we be worried? I think yes, most definitely. Last year was rotten, not just for us but for much of our wildlife. While there may have been an abundance of slugs in many gardens, this does not necessarily translate into a bumper year for hedgehogs. Yes, hedgehogs eat slugs, but their main diet comes in the form of other macroinvertebrates such as worms and beetles. Additionally, there seems to be a correlation between wet summers, increased slugs and rises in the numbers of hedgehogs found with lung worm and other debilitating parasites.
This would suggest that hedgehogs entered hibernation last year not as fit/fat as they could have been. Couple this with the very long winter and you have a problem …will the hibernating hedgehogs have enough fat reserves to make it through? We will find out in the next few months.
But we will only find out if you continue to feed data into the many surveys that take place. There is no one else out there doing the work, it is just us – citizen scientists – recording what we see and passing the data onto those who can make sense of it all – so if you can, look at joining up with the BTO or PTES work – join in with HedgehogStreet and see what else you can do to help this much loved animal by looking at what the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has to offer.