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London’s wild hedgehogs
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Regent’s Park is the last of central London’s Royal Parks to have retained a resident population of wild hedgehogs, according to the results of one of the UK’s biggest studies of inner-city hedgehogs.
With hedgehog numbers in nationwide decline, the importance of understanding the needs and behaviour of one of Britain’s best-loved mammals is greater than ever – and vital to inform hedgehog-friendly conservation.
The study, which started in 2014, was run by the Royal Parks Foundation and leading scientists, with the support of 100 nocturnal volunteers. It confirmed the presence of around 40 animals in Regent’s Park – a relatively small number considering the size (166 ha) of the park – which raises concerns about the viability of the population in the long term.
Most of the hedgehogs have been found foraging and nesting in a mosaic of grassland, shrubberies and hedges, with analysis showing that they travelled up to 1.5km a night. That’s the same distance as the Underground line between Regent’s Park and Angel!
The average weight of the hedgehogs surveyed was 960g – well above the national average, which suggests Regent’s Park has an abundance of food. Hedgehogs are insectivores; with slugs, caterpillars and beetles among their favourite foods, they have a deserved reputation for being a real gardener’s friend.
This year’s survey, which has been filmed by BBC nature programme, Springwatch, again focuses on finding as many hedgehogs as possible in the Park to begin to detect population trends and understand more about their nocturnal behaviour and habitat preferences.
Finding out where they make their nest during the day is also a top survey priority this year, as these are key refuges from the eight million people and dogs who visit the Park every year! The findings will help inform hedgehog-friendly habitat management to help safeguard the population’s future in Regent’s Park and other parklands across the country.
‘This survey brings together expert scientists, wildlife conservation organisations and local volunteers. One of the important aims of the project is to educate the park users about the resident hedgehog population so that they will help protect and support them in future.’
Sara Lom, CEO of the Royal Parks Foundation
Technology played a huge part in 2015’s study, with thermal imaging cameras – a rarity in this type of project – used alongside radio tagging and GPS tracking. A DNA analysis of the hedgehogs’ spines is also planned for the summer to find out more about the genetic make-up of this small population.
‘Thanks to the exceptional efforts of all those involved, the data we have gathered this May will provide crucial detail about the behaviour of hedgehogs in the Park. As well as the use of GPS and radio tracking, thermal imaging has allowed us to detect hedgehogs more reliably and to observe their activities with minimal disturbance.’
Dr Nigel Reeve, leading hedgehog expert and former Head of Ecology, The Royal Parks
The project has been carried out in partnership with The Royal Parks, the charity that helps support the magic of London’s eight amazing Royal Parks, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provided veterinary support throughout the fieldwork period.
Dr Nigel Reeve and Professor John Gurnell, two eminent wildlife scientists, presented initial findings at the national Mammal Society Conference earlier this year. The survey was made possible thanks to a generous gift from a Regent’s Park neighbour, who is passionate about hedgehog conservation.
‘Last year’s research findings have led to a change in habitat management. Grassland adjacent to hedges will be left to grow longer to provide a richer environment for hedgehog foraging and nesting. The findings from Regent’s Park will also be shared with other urban green spaces to help with the creation of more hedgehog friendly-habitats.’
Nick Biddle, Park Manager, The Regent’s Park
To raise awareness about urban hedgehog conservation and to ensure vital ongoing monitoring in the Park continues well into the future, the Royal Parks Foundation is producing limited-edition hedgehog inspired clothing, as well as offering the public a virtual opportunity to adopt one of Regent’s Park’s hogs.