It’s been over a year since my last blog post! Kicking off revitilising this blog, I’m going to talk about hedgehogs, the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative and the work UWE have been doing as part of this, which I have been fortunate to play a part in.

Hedgehog (C. Percival, 2019)

The hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, can be found all over Europe, including the UK (apart from some Scottish islands). Like many people, I was first introduced to the idea of a hedgehog by Beatrix Potter, in her much loved children’s book ‘The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle”. To this day, I still don’t remember ever having seen a live hedgehog! This might be explained by the fact that hedgehog populations have been on the decline in the UK for the last two decades, with some reports suggesting there has been a 66% decline in populations.

Hedgehogs are very well adapted to living in urban areas. They are friendly garden helpers, eating a large number of insects like beetles and caterpillars, and earthworms. They can travel 1-2km a night, visiting many gardens. All of this, however, does put them at greater risk on roads, from predators (such as dogs, foxes and badgers) and from poisons, such as slug pellets. They may drown in ponds or swimming pools, get trapped down uncovered drains or in cattle grids, get tangled in netting or litter, or shut in sheds, greehouses or garages. I don’t get hedgehogs in my garden. I do have hedgehog tunnels in the fences, but I am in a mid-terrace and have been unsuccessful in convincing other neighbours to follow suit. Barriers for people installing a “hedgehog highway” seem to be private rent landlords being unkeen, solid brick walls perceived as being difficult/costly to alter, concern over domestic pets (cats and dogs) getting in or out, and concern over pests such as rats using the holes. The hedgehog highway link above shows a number of ways these barriers may be overcome, however!

In 2019 I sought to address my lack of hedgehog sightings by learning how to survey for them. I attended a “Surveying for Hedgehogs” event held by Sustrans where we learned how to make footprint tunnels to find evidence of hedgehogs, which we placed strategically along the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path where hedgehogs had been anecdotally reported previously. Unfortunately, we did not find any evidence of hedgehogs over the two-week period of time that the tunnels were in-situ, but it is worth mentioning that just because we found no evidence, it does not mean they really are not there!

In late 2019 I was excited to find a dead hedgehog on the road just outside of UWE on Long Down Avenue. Obviously, it was sad to find a dead one rather than a live one, but it did highlight that they are in the area! I recorded this finding via the Mammal Mapper app and Project Splatter. Below you can see a map of recorded hedgehog sightings in the area, though there must be more that are not recorded.

Hedgehog records in the UWE area, NBN Atlas, 2021

In 2019 I attended the volunteer fair at UWE, where I met Richie Fluester and Will Rollason from UWE Grounds Team. They run the community garden, which I was fortunate to help out in a couple of times when lectures allowed me to. We got chatting about hedgehogs, and Richie mentioned the Hedgehog Friendly Campus Campaign, and that they were keen to enter. By the time I became involved in the campaign, the Grounds Team had already put in a huge amount of effort in getting UWE accredited as a hedgehog friendly campus (and they continue to do the lion’s share of the work, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdowns). This included elements such as making sure fences had access for hedgehogs, litter picks, stickers on strimmers etc. to remind staff to check for hedgehogs, as well as practical training for the Grounds Team (e.g., what to do if they find a sick or injured hedgehog). Richie set up the working group, comprised of staff and students, and we held the first meeting to discuss tasks to achieve bronze accreditation. We placed leaflets about hedgehogs in various places around campus (including the break room in Bristol Zoo Gardens’ Education Centre, where many UWE students complete some modules), and made sure there were collection boxes placed strategically around campus to raise money for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I helped set up various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The Grounds Team walked around the campus with someone from the Hedgehog Preservation Society who highlighted areas hedgehogs may use, and areas where something could be done to help them, and the launch event for UWE Hedgehog Friendly Campus took place on November 20th 2019.

Launch event for Hedgehog Friendly Campus at UWE (Mark Steer, via Twitter, 2019)

Amazingly, for all their hard work, UWE was awarded Bronze status in January 2020!

So what next for UWE Hedgehog Friendly Campus? SILVER, of course! Obviously, the pandemic has limited what we can do over 2020. We had planned and hoped to do more practical events, such as working groups (litter picks, hedgehog house building etc.), but that has had to go on the back burner for now. We had a working group meeting online, where we evaluated our bronze award and actions that had been completed, identifying areas we could improve or build upon and ways we could achieve silver accreditation. Once again, because few students are on campus currently, most of the work has unfortunately been completed by the Grounds Team, but that does not mean we cannot make plans for activities that can be completed at a later time! Next steps will be rolling the campaign out to Bower Ashton and Glenside campuses. We are also going to reach out to the neighbouring communities to get them involved too, in installing hedgehog highways and raising awareness. On a personal level I would like to engage with the council/highways authority to have hedgehog crossing signs put on roads like Long Down Avenue, always with the dead hedgehog I found in mind, to help prevent future casualties. Although I finish my degree this semester, I would still like to help out with surveying for hedgehogs. If covid restrictions do not ease off, we would like to pop a few camera traps around on campus in strategic locations, to see if we can get photographic evidence of hedgehog presence in lieu of being able to complete group surveying activities, and permission to do this is something we are looking into. If covid restrictions do ease off, we hope to be able to put some footprint tunnels around campus and identify the species by footprints, and hold some more events such as hedgehog house building or gardening for hedgehogs. We hope to include a “hedgehog trail” similar to the Frenchay Beeline on campus too!

Hopefully we have been successful in achieving silver status, keep an eye on our social media to find out, and then we can set things in motion to go for GOLD! Of course, achieving accreditation is great for the university and the staff, students and community who participate, but really it’s to help the hedgehogs. UWE is a large, busy and expanding campus, as is the community surrounding this, and it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that ultimately what we want to happen is improve the area for hedgehog populations and help them to thrive. This is why I am most hopeful for surveying events to take place this year, so we can get a baseline of what populations are like in and around UWE Frenchay campus and be able to judge how useful the actions have been in the coming years.

I finish this post with a picture of UWE Frenchay’s happy Grounds Team, pictured in 2019, and HUGE thanks to Richie Fluester for his hard work and passion – without which UWE would never have achieved all they have so far to help the hedgehogs. Fingers crossed for silver and gold!

Richie Fluester collecting the Bees Needs Award on behalf of UWE in 2019

Published by StudentEcologistBristol

I'm a mature student studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science BSc (Hons) at the University of the West of England.

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