Hotspots for hedgehog road deaths revealed in new research co-authored by Sussex professor
A new paper co-authored by a University of Sussex Professor has revealed when, where and why hedgehog roadkill is most likely to occur, with the outskirts of Leeds, Manchester, Stoke on Trent and Birmingham emerging as particular blackspots for one of Britain’s most iconic mammals.
Charities involved in the research hope the results will help to identify measures that can be taken to protect hedgehogs, such as reducing road speeds in hotspot areas.
Britain’s hedgehog numbers are in severe decline. According to the Mammal Society’s latest population review, estimates have reduced from 1.5 million individuals in 1995 to a mere 500,000 in 2018. The most recent State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report, published by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) in 2018, estimated hedgehogs in rural areas have declined by a half, and in urban areas by a third since 2000. Possible reasons for this include loss of habitat and food sources; increased predation and competition with other mammals; and deaths caused by road collisions.
This new research, funded by the Mammal Society, PTES and the BHPS, found that around 9% of the 400,000km of road in Britain is particularly perilous for hedgehogs.
Using data collected over 18 years by members of the public in a range of citizen science projects, experts analysed more than 12,500 hedgehog roadkill records.
Grassland areas, and the outskirts of urban areas, were found to pose the highest risk and major roads were particularly hazardous despite forming a relatively small proportion of the total road network. Many of the high-risk locations were in central Britain, southern Wales, the outskirts of London, north-east England, and the Central-Belt of Scotland.
Mammal Society scientist and author of the paper, Patrick Wright, said: “As well as pinpointing areas of most concern, we were able to identify a seasonal peak in hedgehog roadkills in July: a time when vulnerable young hedgehogs are leaving their birthplace to forage alone.
“The good news is that knowing where and when hedgehog road fatalities occur means that we will eventually be able to target our efforts to reduce hedgehog roadkill. Not just on certain roads but also at specific times of year.”
Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society and Professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, says “We are now focused on finding ways of keeping hedgehogs safe from road traffic accidents. Bridges and tunnels, whilst the most obvious solution, will only be effective where most animals are crossing within a very restricted location rather than over a longer stretch of road.
“Elsewhere, slower road speeds or the presence of favourable habitat such as hedgerows and grassy verges parallel to, rather than at right-angles to roads, may help to keep hedgehogs safe What we need is for members of the public to help us pinpoint the exact locations of hedgehog roadkills so we can work out the best solutions, which could include installing bridges or altering speed limits.”
All charities involved are now asking the general public for help to pinpoint future casualties.
The Mammal Mapper, Project Splatter and Mammals on Roads free apps enable people to record sightings on the go and Hedgehog Street’s BIG Hedgehog Map and PTES’ Mammals on Roads websites collect records online.
You can find out if your area is a hedgehog roadkill hotspot by visiting the map on the Mammal Society website at www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/hedgehog-hotspots/