Thursday, 19 January 2012

Consider the hedgehog

In my childhood hedgehogs were a common sight, including, distressingly, squashed dead on the roads. Yet live ones were common too. Now I very seldom see one, dead or alive.

That seems unsurprising when I read that their numbers in the Uk are thought to have declined from 30 million in the 1950s to 1.5 million in 1995 and that there has been a further decline of 25 per cent in the last decade. So the number is likely to be just 1 million or less now, about 3 per cent of what I used to see as a child.

It seems that roadkill could not be responsibe for such a decline and conservationists blame loss of rural habitat in hedgerows and grassland, and intensive agriculture including the use of pesticides. We often forget that pesticides were used scarcely at all, by today's standards, in the 1950s. One did not see then the routine wide-boom sprayer and the tell-tale tramlines in arable fields. (Nor were gardeners troubled by slugs, a change which I think fits somewhere into the overarching development of land use and management since then.) Badger depradation is also thought to be partly responsible for the hedgehog's decline, and, in urban areas, more chemical and 'hard' gardening.


The disappearing hedgehog is not the only aspect of wildlife depletion that is part of the comon experience of ordinary people in their sixties or so. Were are the teaming rockpools of our childhood seaside holidays? The hedgehog, the piddock and the shore crab have, less spectacularly, less wantonly, gone the way of the bison and the passenger pigeon.

American bison
One cannot believe that the cause is anything else than the effluents of our modern chemical lifestyle, which the populations of Asia are about to emulate.