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Hedgehog ecology in the rural landscape: implications for farmland management
A number of recent surveys, including the national HogWatch survey by the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), have revealed a decline in hedgehogs in Britain. The observed declines, amounting to an estimated loss of a quarter of the population over the last decade, resulted in the inclusion of the hedgehog as a priority species in the 2007 UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
It is thought that hedgehog population declines have been more significant in rural than urban areas. How agricultural land, particularly arable land, is managed may therefore have a greater impact on hedgehogs in Britain. Possible causes of their loss from rural locations include changes in the agricultural landscape, especially the loss of hedgerows, impacts of agrochemicals, badger predation and deaths on roads.
This three year project, funded by PTES and BHPS, will investigate the value for hedgehogs of different management options, available to farmers under Environmental Stewardship schemes. For example field boundaries have been shown to be preferred habitat for hedgehogs, and so options for boundary enhancements, such as enhanced hedgerows, field margins, beetle banks and conservation headlands are predicted to be beneficial. This project will seek to answer the following questions:
What is the link between hedgehog numbers, movement and the availability of food, and what makes suitable habitat for hedgehogs on arable land?
What are the most appropriate boundary management techniques for hedgehogs in regards to nesting, hibernation and dispersal?
These will be answered primarily through studying the movements of hedgehogs by radio-tracking across different farm types, comparing population size, ranging behaviour and individuals' use of habitat features in those farms which have implemented management options under Environmental Stewardship schemes and in those which have not. In addition, we will undertake a desk-based population modelling study to establish the minimum viable population size for hedgehogs, identify which populations are most vulnerable, and identify how key factors such as population fragmentation and juxtaposition of habitat features might impact on hedgehog populations under a range of scenarios.
Associated membersDr Tom Moorhouse
Ms Carly Easby