Study shows badgers and hedgehogs can co-exist

Picture: Alan Baldry

Picture: Alan Baldry - Credit: Alan Baldry

New research has shone a light on how widespread hedgehog populations are and their ability to co-exist alongside badgers.

Badger with cubs Picture; Adrian Hinchcliffe

Badger with cubs Picture; Adrian Hinchcliffe - Credit: Archant

The research, led by Nottingham Trent University and the University of Reading, and funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, surveyed 261 rural sites covering all habitat types (seven land classes from arable farmland to upland sites) across England and Wales between 2014 and 2015 (18 sites in Wales, 243 in England) using footprint tracking tunnels.

Ben Williams, PhD student from the University of Reading, the primary author of this paper, said: “We found that although hedgehogs were generally widely distributed across England and Wales, they were actually found at a worryingly low number (21%) of sites. We also found that hedgehogs were absent from 71% of sites that did not have badger setts either, indicating that both hedgehogs and badgers may be absent from large portions of rural England and Wales.”

“We found hedgehogs at 55 sites. We also found that badger setts were present at 49% of these sites, demonstrating that badgers and hedgehogs can, and do, coexist, as was the case historically for thousands of years prior to the recent decline in hedgehog numbers.

However, perhaps more importantly our results indicate that a large proportion of rural England and Wales is potentially unsuitable for both hedgehogs and badgers to live in. Given the similarity in diets of the two species, one explanation for this could be the reduced availability of macro-invertebrate prey (such as earthworms) which both species need to feed on to survive. This could be as a result of agricultural intensification and climate change.”

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While the results don’t dispute that high numbers of badgers in some places do have a negative impact on the presence of hedgehogs, crucially, neither hedgehogs nor badger setts were present at 70 sites (27%), meaning that at over a quarter of the study sites are apparently unsuitable for either species.

Responding to the research, Ali North, hedgehog officer for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said the findings emphasise the value of the community work that trusts have been doing in urban areas for hedgehogs.

Picture: Mecha Morton

Picture: Mecha Morton - Credit: Mecha Morton

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She continued:: “The decline in hedgehog numbers is due to many threats, it’s a complex issue and we can’t just blame badgers. Where there are large fields with few hedgerows there’s nowhere to shelter, feed and nest and pesticides can reduce the numbers of invertebrates such as worms and beetles. Hedgehogs need varied habitats. With an improved network of robust hedgerows across our farmed landscape, smaller parcels of varied land-use, areas of scrub and grassy field margins we could bring about a recovery in hedgehog numbers in these areas.

“New housing development can be an opportunity for improving the situation for hedgehogs if the right steps are taken. Good design of greenspace, connectivity of existing features like hedgerows, installing hedgehog-sized holes in fences and sympathetic green space management to ensure a varied landscape of long grass, bushes, wooded areas and wild patches is important.

Ms North added: “We need to make space for nature at the heart of our farming and planning systems, to have a linked landscape that brings wildlife and the benefits of a healthy natural world into every part of life. We need a Nature Recovery Network.’

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Ali North with hedgehogs . Picture: JOHN FERGUSON/SWT

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Ali North with hedgehogs . Picture: JOHN FERGUSON/SWT - Credit: John Ferguson Photography

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