Following the survey last year that failed to find any Hedgehogs at Mudchute, the Biodiversity Officer carried out a similar survey at Victoria Park in late July/early August. Sadly the survey, which followed guidelines approved by the Mammal Society, again failed to record any signs of Hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are known to have been present in Victoria Park 10-15 years ago. The greenkeeper of the Bowls Club recalls having to rescue them from the trench around the edge of the bowling green from time to time, though not for many years. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species have also received reports from near Victoria Park in recent years. So this seemed like a good place to try a survey this year.
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 (see photo left). These are triangular plastic tunnels, baited with 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. 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 July 2018 the Biodiversity Officer, with assistance from Victoria Park staff, set up ten footprint tunnels around the park and monitored them for five nights. The method undeniably works, as plenty of footprints were recorded, but these were all from Brown Rats (photo left), Foxes 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. Despite repeated appeals for records of Hedgehogs, there have been very few reports from anywhere in Tower Hamlets in recent years. The one which visited a garden in Stepney at the end of May 2018 was the first confirmed sighting in the borough since July 2013. The London Wildlife Trust’s “Urban Urchins” project has yielded two further records this year. One seen near Stepney Green on 8 July, perhaps the same individual as in the nearby garden in May. Another was captured on film by a camera trap in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in late June. Five rescued hedgehogs were released in Cemetery Park by a rehabilitation centre in 2015, so this is presumably one of those, or perhaps their offspring.
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 within 25 years.
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?
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 William Moreno. All other photos by John Archer (click to enlarge)