Posted 4th Apr 2017
Despite being one of our favourite mammals, there are a number of myths about hedgehogs which have developed over the years, leading to fears that they could be hampering conservation efforts. Wildlife charities People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) share their top five common myths surrounding hedgehogs...
Myth 1: A case of mistaken identity! Can you spot which is Britain's native hedgehog?
The West-European hedgehog is Britain's native hedgehog, which has darker and more rounded features. African pygmy hedgehogs will have paler facial hair, with pink-brown snouts, lighter spines and pointier features. Unable to survive in the wild in the UK, they will sometimes be kept as exotic pets, which will sometimes see them incorrectly labelled as a native British hedgehog.
Myth 2: There were 30 million hedgehogs in Britain in the 1950s
The idea that there were 30 million hedgehogs was initially suggested by the naturalist Maurice Burton during a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the 1950s, and its a figure which has since stuck. In reality, we have no idea how many hedgehogs there were in the 1950s, though we do know they were more abundant.
Formal monitoring first started in the 1990s, and since then, there has been clear evidence that the hedgehog population has been declining. However, they are thought to have been declining for much longer. As it stands, it's estimated that populations have declined by up to a third in urban areas, and by more than half in rural areas since 2000.
Myth 3: British hedgehogs face extinction
Though population trends show an ongoing decline, it's unlikely this will eventually result in hedgehog extinction. Should this decline continue, it is likely that hedgehogs will survive in patches of land l studies by BHPS, PTES and others suggest a minimum of 32 individuals in 90 hectares is the best habitat available, and the minimum requirement for an isolated population to survive.
The main concern is that hedgehogs are becoming a rare sight in our gardens, parks and other spaces, including both rural and urban landscapes. If this continues, it could see huge parts of Britain end up not being home to any hedgehog population at all, which would be tragic. As it currently stands, this is more realistic than extinction.
Myth 4: Time for a better diet: no more bread and milk for hedgehogs!
While it's fantastic that the public want to provide food for hedgehogs, especially when natural food could be scarce, it need sot be remembered that they can only eat and drink certain things. For instance, did you know hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, and milk can cause diarrhoea? If you would like to leave a drink out for a hedgehog, you should make sure it's a small bowl of water.
Feeding bread to hedgehogs like ducks at your local pond is also not recommended. A hedgehog's diet should be mainly protein-based, so you can either provide specific hedgehog food or meat-based pet foods, with the option of small amounts of crushed unsalted nuts and / or mealworm.
Myth 5: Hedgehogs transmit fleas to pets
Hedgehogs can sometimes be unfairly branded as fleabags. The hedgehog flea (Archaeopyslla erinacei) is host-specific, which means it will only survive on hedgehogs. Therefore, if a hedgehog flea is transferred to a pet, it would either drop or hop off.