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New study to investigate traffic’s impact on hedgehogs

Written by Science, Uncategorised

A new study by Nottingham Trent University is making car traffic a pricklier topic for commuters than ever before with their new study to gauge the impact of traffic on the humble hedgehog, one of the United Kingdom’s most beloved local species. 

According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, a nature charity that is funding the study, approximately 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on roads each year in the UK as of 2016.  PTES also published a report in 2018 on “The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs” alongside the British Hedgehog Preservation Society which showed a 30% drop in hedgehog populations in urban areas and a 50% drop in rural areas since 2000, suggesting that road collisions may have a significant impact on species survival.

The study will assess hedgehogs by demographic to figure out which are most likely to be killed by traffic—males, females, adults, and juveniles.  Researchers will also consider the ratio of casualties to local population size, and will look at six sites with hedgehog tunnels to help them cross under the road safely and six sites without tunnels.  Data collection methods include genetic analysis of the small creatures’ tissue, faeces, and hair; nocturnal observation, and recording the frequency of hedgehogs crossing roads, using the tunnels, and, unfortunately, being hit by cars.  PhD student and researcher Lauren Moore said, “We need to know whether roads are affecting the long-term viability of hedgehog populations.  To the best of our knowledge, the impact of roads on hedgehogs has not been investigated in this way before.”  PTES staff agreed that her research would be of great benefit to hedgehog conservation efforts.

People who grew up between 1997 and 2008 may already have formed a mental connection between hedgehogs and traffic safety: THINK! road safety ads featuring a family of hedgehogs were aired during this time period in the UK. In these 40-second ads, cartoon hedgehogs showed children how to safely cross the road by looking both ways and not running into the street after toys or balls, with the aid of songs that included a cover of “Stayin’ Alive” and an original song called “King of the Road.” While a spokesperson admitted that “the hedgehog is not normally an animal that’s particularly good at crossing roads,” the idea was that the image of the hedgehog would be “a popular one with children and one they can remember and relate to.” The Department of Transport invested £600,000 into the program, which resulted in a small but notable decrease in child pedestrian deaths. Perhaps these memorable ads will help commuters who learned from them as kids remember that hedgehogs are sharing our roads with us, even if they are not as safety-aware as their televised counterparts.

Readers concerned about our bristly little friends will want to mark their calendars for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s Hedgehog Awareness Week from 3-9 May, 2020.  Their advice for people who want to help their local hedgehogs is to build hedgehog homes, create log piles where hedgehogs can take shelter, and check compost heaps and grassy areas before digging a fork in or mowing.  Their Hedgehog Street website allows citizens to register as Hedgehog Champions and gives even more helpful information, including instructions for how to make hedgehog highways through your garden wall, guidelines for feeding hedgehogs, and advice on how to talk to your neighbours about hedgehog conservation.  These resources can be found at www.hedgehogstreet.org.  Information on other studies done by PTES can be found at www.ptes.org/campaigns/hedgehogs/.

Last modified: 23rd March 2020

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