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Who we are

A group of volunteers working within the town of Brackley to investigate and highlight the increased levels of juvenile hedgehog sickness and mortality, in the context of the nationwide decline in the hedgehog population of the UK. We have a high profile within the town and there is widespread awareness of our work, with everyone in the community asked to report to us any daylight or winter sightings of hedgehogs (however healthy they might appear) and any sick/dead hedgehogs within Brackley or its immediate surroundings.

What we do

For the past 7 years, the community have been contacting us with hundreds of daytime and winter sightings of hedgehogs, which are all investigated by our volunteers. Each animal is examined, regardless of how healthy it appears, and if found to be ill, is treated and microchipped, with the help of local veterinary clinic Mansion Hill, then returned to the wild. Initially, x rays were taken to build up a complete picture of the development of the hedgehogs, starting with newborns, allowing us to accurately determine the age of hedgehogs.

We now therefore have a significant and unique resource of data concerning the local hedgehog population.

Why we do it

Over the past 70 years, the UK has lost a catastrophic 97% of adult hedgehogs; it is estimated that the remaining 1 million adults are declining at around 5% per year – extinction could happen within 50 years! Alarmingly, the experts do not know why; some claim road deaths, some predation by badgers, some loss of habitat, some pesticides.

Our founder member Andrew has a lifelong interest in hedgehogs and has spent almost his entire life observing and studying them in and around Brackley. Although lacking an academic background, his expertise and knowledge became well known and local people would turn for help and advice to ‘the hedgehog man’. However, he became aware of something unusual in the hedgehogs that he saw – increasing numbers of juveniles were being found sick and he was determined to find out why and if this phenomenon was in any way significant in the overall decline in hedgehog population.

With the hedgehogs under threat of extinction, it is clearly vital that we find out all the factors that are endangering them in time.

What we have found

From the data that we have collected, we can show that habitat loss, slug pellets, road deaths, badgers are not, in fact, the problem. The problem is that most hedgehogs born in recent years no longer survive their first year, whereas 20 years ago they did. Our research proves that hundreds of juveniles are dying every winter and that 80% of these are first litters failing in their first year, not late second litters failing to thrive, as has always been thought. The assumption that all the sick/small hedgehogs found in winter are late born also assumes that the first litter is safe & thriving somewhere; this is demonstrably not the case.

The reason we have such a drastic decline in adult hedgehogs is simply that the juveniles no longer reach breeding age.

‘It seems that the majority of juvenile hedgehogs are now not surviving their first winter’ – Dr John Taylor MRCVS

Badger numbers, busy roads have not had increased impact on hedgehog mortality locally; there has been no loss of habitat – the ONLY significant factor is the decline in the juvenile survival rate.

What is not yet clear is whether this is peculiar to our area, or a nationwide phenomenon.

What can we do?

Clearly we need to understand WHY the juveniles are dying in such large numbers. From our research, they overwhelmingly die of parasitical infestation. The questions therefore are;

Are juveniles immune systems less able than previously to cope with parasites?

Has the nature of the parasites changed or are there now increased amounts of parasites in the hedgehog diet? We have found that most slugs are now infested with eg lungworm – is this significant?

Do hedgehogs rely on slugs for a greater part of their diet? Are other food sources declining?

We have shown through the micro chipping that local hedgehog populations do not travel/move outside ‘their’ area, meaning they become insular and isolated, with no interbreeding. This clearly has ramifications if those populations then decline. Is this typical of the rest of the UK?

We desperately want the scientific community to look at our evidence and consider those questions.

We have an invaluable resource of citizen scientific data which is freely available to anyone who is trying to find the reasons for the catastrophe already happening to our hedgehog population. We are not academics, but we believe our findings are vitally significant, and we hope to interest those in the environmental sciences to take them on and draw their own conclusions.

It has so far proved difficult to get the scientific and environmental experts to take us seriously, perhaps due to our non-academic background, but also because our data seems to go against current & accepted theories on hedgehog population and decline. We would love to be proved wrong! Hence our offer of our data to any academic who wishes to use it as a basis for further research.

Meanwhile

The work continues! – we remain the ‘go to’ contact for Brackley people, we continue to examine, treat & monitor our hedgehog population and try to spread the word about the crisis that our hedgehogs are facing.

Funding

We are already a legitimate charity, but hope in the future to become registered; currently we do not reach the required income of £5000 through donations. We hope to build on our current £3000 donations, but realistically have little spare time for fundraising efforts – do let us know if you can help (or are perhaps a bored multi millionaire with a fondness for hedgehogs..?!)

Since setting up Brackley Hogwatch in 2011, we have invested thirty thousand pounds of our own money into this project – organisations such as the National Lottery don’t fund research and we simply cannot afford to fund eg a phd student to publish our findings and carry out further study as the costs would be at least £10,000 per year.

Even more frustratingly, we have not been able to get the funding that is available for research because we have not been able to persuade the grant giving organisations such as BHPS or PTES that we have any credible methods or evidence – we will continue to invite them to come to see for themselves!

Open door policy

Every November, we offer an open invitation to the environmental science community and to the media to come to see just what we do and how many dying juvenile hedgehogs we find. We believe the evidence speaks for itself and that all would immediately understand the importance of our data. We firmly believe that if we could get a wildlife expert such as Pat Morris or Chris Packham to simply look at these facts, they would support the urgent research we so desperately need.

(this page was last updated 1/10/2018 by Andrew Jackson)

Our website is being updated on an ongoing basis – please call back to see new information.

Help us help our hedgehogs…

 

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Keeping you updated…

We now have 96 hedgehogs at the rescue centre – Any financial help would be greatly appreciated