Protection for Wildlife in the UK
The majority of the wildlife in the UK are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This act offers different levels of protection depending on the plight of the species. Animals listed under Schedule 5 prohibits the killing, harming or taking of any wild mammals from the wild. If anyone breaks the law then this is a criminal offence. Any guilty individuals could be fined, imprisoned for up to six months, or both.
Some wildlife has extra protection due to their declining numbers in the wild and past persecution, such as certain species of birds, bats, dormice, and great crested newts. They are listed under both Schedule 5 meaning that whenever a development takes place surveys must be undertaken to identify if any protected species are present, to prevent any harm to the wildlife occurring, and to determine what mitigation or enhancement measurements need to be put in place.
In particular, bats and great crested newts are often seen as a hindrance to many whenever a development takes place. Surveys must be undertaken. This is to identify if any protected species are present, in order to prevent any harm to the wildlife, and to determine what mitigation or enhancement measurements need to be put in place for peoples dream homes to be secure. However. it is the protection afforded to these protected species which aims to prevent further declines of these species.
The European hedgehog is one of 17 species from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. They do not live in South-East Asia or the continents of America or Australia. The hedgehog has been around for 15 million years and currently the worldwide hedgehog population is listed as least concern by the IUCN, meaning their populations are stable or growing. The hedgehog in the UK on the other hand, is in major decline and are being driven to national extinction. Their populations fallen by 37% in the last 10 years, which is a faster rate of decline than tigers in the wild. The British population has declined from approximately 30 million in the 1950’s to 1.5 million now. Scientists believe that this rate of decline could result in their extinction in certain areas of the country by 2020, in some areas of London they are already extinct. Some areas of the UK hedgehog population have plateaued and seem to be doing better in suburban areas in comparison to those in the wider countryside. However, if the rate of decline continues their extinction will likely be very soon.
Persecution of this species has been prevented by legislation covering most species of animal which was put into effect to prevent trapping and shooting hedgehogs. This was a common practice in the 1950s as farmers and gamekeepers viewed hedgehogs as pests, feeding on hen and game bird eggs. This persecution may have triggered the start of their decline.
Another factor in their decline is the increased use of cars since the 1950’s. It is estimated that 50,000 hedgehogs die after being hit by traffic every year in the UK.
Arguably, the main cause of the decline in hedgehog numbers is a result of changes in farming practices, specifically the intensification of agriculture. This has resulted in severe decreases in natural food supplies, and the shrinking and fragmentation of hedgehog habitats. Changes in land management may also have contributed to the rise in the badger population, who out-compete hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are listed on:
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Schedule 6 – It illegal to kill or capture hedgehogs unless they are suffering or need to be rehabilitated then released back into the wild.
Wild Mammals Protection Act (1996) – It illegal to treat a hedgehog cruelly.
The NERC Act – Lists hedgehogs as a species of ‘principal importance’ which public bodies have a duty of responsibility’ to protect.
However, none of these acts prevent the causes of the population declines.
The Potential Solution
The most obvious solution is to place the hedgehog on Schedule 5 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which would make it a legal imperative for ecologists to search for hedgehogs and mitigate or enhance habitats for them if a development is being proposed.
However, the Government does not believe that this will make a difference to the hedgehog population despite the fact that the loss of their habitats and lowered population levels is due to human activity.
A petition was proposed which demanded that hedgehogs have the same level of protection as bats, great crested newts and dormice, all of which are covered by Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The government stated that ‘We support measures to help hedgehogs. We do not believe it is appropriate to list hedgehogs as a protected species, which is best reserved for species deliberately killed or injured by humans. The Government is concerned about the decline of the hedgehog. Whilst the reasons for the decline in numbers of this emblematic species are complex, we support efforts to make our gardens more hedgehog friendly and friendlier to wildlife generally and pollinators specifically.’
The government have also recognised the work of ‘Hedgehog Street’, a campaign set up by the ‘Peoples Trust for Endangered Species’ and the ‘British Hedgehog Preservation Society.’ ‘Hedgehog Street’ rise awareness to the hedgehog’s plight. Plans were also made to encourage the protection of their habitats.
DEFRA have also supported the governments conclusion to this matter stating, ‘Protecting such a generalist habitat from destruction or disturbance could have the unintended consequence of making it a criminal offence to tend gardens and it may deter the maintenance and creation of habitat for hedgehogs if there will be a restriction on land use as a result”.
DEFRA have also put in place a 25-year plan to protect and enhance the environment according to the needs of hedgehogs as well as noting that the campaign for greater legal protection for our hog friends is still ongoing.
Despite this pledge, DEFRA have approved the use of a multi-species trap in the UK, which will threaten not only the UK hedgehog population, but other small rodents need of our protection. The person using the trap is expected to take steps to avoid trapping protected species and to try to target only vermin. Also to consider that trapping a hedgehog is an illegal offence and accidental capture cannot be used as a defence. There is no policing of these traps, meaning that the use of them will be used to contribute to the dwindling numbers of hedgehogs. A petition was created with up to 30,000 signatures in the first 6 weeks of its creation to try and ban the use of this trap. However, as parliament was dissolved in June this year the petition had to be closed and be started again.
- WEIGHT – weighing less than 450g – 650g (statistics vary) they will not survive the winter. If you see a hedgehog in Autumn that looks small, then weigh it and call a local rescue centre or the RSPCA for any advice you require.
- OUT IN THE DAY- hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means, they should not be out in the day. Pick up the hedgehog gently and ring a local rescue centre or the RSPCA for help. Make a hot water bottle, but make sure it is not scalding hot, and wrap it in a towel placing the hedgehog and the hot water bottle in a cardboard/plastic box. Then place the box somewhere quiet and in the dark whilst you wait for someone to collect the hog.
- FEEDING STATIONS – You can buy one or make one out of paving slabs and bricks. Dry cat biscuits tend to be the best food as they do not go out of date or freeze in cold weather. Tinned cat/dog food is good as long as it goes out fresh every night. Mealworms are full of protein and are ideal for hogs. They must NEVER be given milk as they are actually lactose intolerant. Water is far better for hedgehogs! Supply them with clean water in a shallow, heavy bowl with some netting so they can climb out if they fall in.
- MAKE YOUR GARDEN HOG FRIENDLY – Log piles, long grasses, piles of dead leaves, shrubs and hedgerows are ideal places for our hog friends to make nests!
- HEDGEHOG HIGHWAYS – Hedgehogs travel up to a mile a night in search of food, and if your garden is surrounded by a wall or fence, they may be unable to find a way in. Creating a 13cm X 13cm gap in the base of the wall or fence will enable even the largest hedgehog to access your garden.
- DON’T BARBEQUE YOUR HOG – Bonfires can kill or seriously injure hogs. If you plan to have a bonfire, on the day of its lighting, unstack the material and move it to another location as a hedgehog could have moved in.
- DON’T BE AFRAID OF OUR HOG FRIENDS – If you think a hedgehog needs help then don’t be scared, they are very placid and can cope with being handled. Thick gloves such as gardening gloves are ideal to protect your hands from their spines. If you don’t have gloves, then a towel will do. Checking them over for injures or checking their weight is a good thing to do even if it turns out there is nothing wrong with them and you end up releasing them anyway. The next hedgehog you check may need urgent help and you have most probably saved its life.
With the dedication of the public and hedgehog charities and organisations, we will hopefully prevent the further decline of Britain’s most loved wild animal.
Author: Ashley Dale