UK's first big hedgehog sanctuary

By Claire Marshall
BBC environment correspondent

media captionThe number of hedgehogs has dropped to under a million

The first large-scale hedgehog sanctuary in the UK is being opened today in Solihull, West Midlands.

The 90-hectare refuge has been created by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in response to a crashing hedgehog population.

The aim is for it to be the model for hedgehog conservation across the whole of Britain.

In the 1950s, 36 million of the animals used to snuffle in UK gardens. There may be less than a million now.

Funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the conservation area stretches across a nature reserve, a public park and the surrounding streets.

More than 100 "footprint tunnels" have been created to show where the hedgehogs have been. Not only will they be placed in the wide green spaces, but also in the gardens of willing local people. Hidden cameras are being installed and volunteer "wildlife guardians" will help to protect the spaces.

According to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the most important part is involving the community.

Simon Thompson is the organisation's hedgehog officer: "We're asking the local people to really get involved with the scientific survey.

"We're going to be looking at distribution using the footprint tunnels and abundance via a capture, mark and recapture scheme.

"Hedgehogs will be trapped overnight and in the morning we will give them a unique colour code. We'll aim to recapture them again, and from the results we will be able to estimate the population numbers in the area."

image captionBrian Llewellyn cuts a hole in his fence to allow the hedgehogs to roam across his garden

Hedgehogs need to roam to forage for worms and insects and to find shelter. An adult male can cover more than three kilometres a night. More often than not, their path is blocked by solid garden boundaries.

At the request of the conservationists, some Solihull residents within the reserve are also now starting to adopt the most simple and effective way of helping a hedgehog. They are creating wildlife corridors by making a small hole - no bigger than the size of a CD - in their garden walls or fences.

Brian Llewellyn has just cut the reserve's first new wildlife corridor - in his garden fence. "I have been living on housing estates for many years now and I had never seen a hedgehog until recently. I would just love to be able to allow them to travel around the back gardens here, which they need to be able to do. It's so simple. Anyone can do it, you just need a saw."

Sally Marjoram runs the Solihull Happy Hogs Hedgehog Rescue.

She commented: "This is a double-edged sword. I think it's really sad that we have to go to these lengths, and that people go around their daily business without realizing how they are affecting wildlife.

"Because once it's gone, it's gone. At the moment the future is very very bleak, but it's not too late to turn it around. People only need to do little things to make a big difference. This reserve is an amazing start."

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