They are prickly, with up to 5,000 spines, known for their nocturnal wanderings in gardens, noisy mating habits and now feared to be disappearing from Tower Hamlets.
The hedgehog this week topped a nationwide poll, organised by BBC Wildlife Magazine, to find a national species emblem for Britain. Once common on the Isle of Dogs and in Victoria Park, only one sighting was reported in 2012, figures released on July 29 by Tower Hamlets Council reveal.
British Hedgehog Preservation Society Chief Executive Fay Vass said: “We are all thrilled that hedgehogs have won this vote and it could not have come at a better time; hedgehog numbers are in fairly sharp decline so they need all the help they can get.”
Hedgehog numbers have declined alarmingly in recent years according to data published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species: between 2003 to 2012 records of hedgehogs in green urban and suburban areas fell by 37 per cent.
While the reason behind the decline is not yet known, factors such as increased traffic, changing trends in gardening – including increased use of slug pellets and more fences between gardens – and the increase in urban foxes may have played a part.
Mathew Frith, Deputy CEO of London Wildlife Trust, said: “Sadly hedgehog habitat is rapidly decreasing due to garden vegetation removal and the installation of tighter fencing around gardens,” and advised, “Gardeners can help the capital’s hedgehogs by making sure there is a way in and out of their garden to allow roaming, retaining vegetation and by leaving undisturbed areas of untidied leaves.”
Part of Britain’s natural wildlife, hedgehogs have their uses – not just for inspiring children’s story book characters – but they eat garden pests including slugs and snails.
As they are primarily active at night and mainly found in gardens, the Tower Hamlets Council’s biodiversity team, which works to protect local wildlife, is asking residents to keep an eye out and report any hedgehog sightings.