A survey at Mudchute, following guidelines approved by the Mammal Society, has failed to record any signs of Hedgehogs, raising concerns that Britain’s favourite wild mammal might be extinct in its former stronghold on the Isle of Dogs.
Ten or more years ago, Hedgehogs were fairly common in the southern part of the Isle of Dogs, with regular sightings at Mudchute and in nearby streets and gardens. However, despite repeated appeals for records, there have been very few reports in recent years, and none since July 2013. To try to find out whether there are still Hedgehogs in the area, the Biodiversity Officer decided to carry out a survey at Mudchute.
As Hedgehogs are strictly nocturnal, it’s not easy to try looking for them directly. The best method of surveying for Hedgehogs is the use of footprint tunnels. These are triangular plastic tunnels, baited with cat food (or commercially-available dried Hedgehog food), with an ink pad either side of the bait and a sheet of paper between each ink pad and the exit. To get at the bait, a Hedgehog (or any other animal) has to walk over the ink pad, and will leave inky footprints on the paper when it leaves (see photo left). Research by the Mammal Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) suggests that ten tunnels, left in suitable places for five consecutive nights, are sufficient to determine presence or absence of Hedgehogs in one square kilometre. For full details of how the survey works, see the guidelines published by PTES (PDF 5MB).
So, in late June 2017 the Biodiversity Officer, with assistance from Mudchute staff and volunteers, set up ten footprint tunnels around Mudchute Park and Farm and monitored them for five nights. The method undeniably works, as plenty of footprints were recorded, but these were all from cats (see photo left – apologies to anyone living beside Mudchute whose cat walked inky paws all over their house!) and small rodents (mice and/or voles). No Hedgehog footprints were found. While this is not absolute proof that there are no Hedgehogs at Mudchute, it is strongly suggestive that they may be locally extinct.
Indeed, it seems likely that this much-loved animal is on the verge of extinction in Tower Hamlets. Ironically, during the week of the survey at Mudchute, a hedgehog sighting was reported from Limehouse, which proves that there are still some in the borough. PTES have also received reports from near Victoria Park in recent years – that might be the next place we try the survey.
The decline of Hedgehogs in Tower Hamlets reflects a serious national trend. It is estimated that Britain’s Hedgehog population suffered a 30% decline between 2002 and 2015. A continuation of this trend could lead to the extinction of the Hedgehog in Britain.
The reasons for the drop in the hedgehog population are not fully understood. Busy roads cause mortalities and they can also disrupt dispersal routes for hedgehogs, so the increase in traffic is probably a factor. Changing gardening practices are probably a major factor too. Impermeable garden fencing and walls limits the area of connected land available, and habitat in gardens has been lost to car parking or decking. Over-tidy gardening can remove dead wood, replace foraging areas with drives and decking and clear away overgrown corners. Use of pesticides and slug pellets can poison Hedgehogs and kills the invertebrates they eat.
What can you do to help Hedgehogs?
If you have a garden, there are plenty of things you can do to help Hedgehogs, if there are still Hedgehogs in your area:
- make sure that Hedgehogs can get under your fence into adjacent gardens, and encourage your neighbours to do the same;
- don’t use slug pellets, and keep use of other pesticides to a minimum;
- leave a few wild corners in your garden, and pile up logs or other dead wood somewhere;
- if Hedgehogs visit your garden, you can provide extra food – either cat food or commercially-available dried Hedgehog food. DON’T give them milk, as they cannot digest it;
- if you see a hedgehog in Tower Hamlets, please let the Biodiversity Officer know by e-mail or by phoning 020 7364 7478.
Check out the Hedgehog Street website for more tips on how to help Hedgehogs.
Header photo by David Darrell-Lambert/Bird Brain UK. All other photos by John Archer (click to enlarge)