New research has shown a worrying lack of hedgehog numbers in Britain. The study used ink pads to track the paw prints of hedgehogs in 111 sites across the country, but the spiky mammal's tracks were only found in 39% of locations surveyed.
Volunteers across the country set up tunnels baited with food for local hedgehogs, who had to walk over ink pads to reach the treats. The resulting paw prints helped researchers from Nottingham Trent University, the University of Reading and The Mammal Society to accurately map the presence of hedgehogs across the UK, something that has previously been difficult to do. The final figures were far lower than scientists had estimated.
Speaking to BBC Nature, researcher Dr Richard Yarnell from Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, explained that the results were lower than expected. "This is the first method that we've been able to actually get a true feeling for what their habitat preferences may be, and how they're occupying our wider countryside. Historically we thought that hedgehogs were pretty well distributed across the country. What's certainly clear now is that in the wider rural landscape they do generally seem to be absent."
The decline of Britain's hedgehogs is attributed to various factors including agricultural intensification, the rise of badger numbers, an increase in traffic volume and climate change.
The new method for tracking the animals will be used in the current national hedgehog survey, which aims to monitor at least 400 sites in England and Wales in 2014 and 2015. Find out how you can get involved as a volunteer here.