Hedgehog highways are called the gaps under fences that separate cities from rural areas.
Hedgehogs will be able to roam freely through a network of green spaces created by a hole in the fence. Highways can be a hole drilled in a wall or a natural gap in a wooden fence. They help hedgehogs find food and mates.
The urban and suburban areas are becoming more crowded and dangerous to wildlife. These highways provide hedgehogs with more habitat and offer them a refuge from the pressures of the landscape.
Hedgehogs are listed as being vulnerable to extinction on Britain’s Red List for mammals. This has led to significant conservation efforts. People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society are key players in the battle for hedgehog survival. This year, they published a Report about the state of Britain’s Hedgehogs. The campaign, Hedgehog Street, focuses on local action. It encourages people to build hedgehog highways.
Since 2000, the number of hedgehogs has decreased by 30-75% in different parts of the countryside. The reasons for the disappearance of hedgehogs are not obvious.
The loss of habitats is a result of agricultural intensification. Since World War II, Great Britain has lost 50 percent of its hedgerows. Slug pellets and pesticides are killing the beetles, worms, and slugs that hedgehogs depend on.
Hedgehog populations can be fragmented by impenetrable fencing in urban areas. Hedgehogs are now at greater risk of being hit by vehicles due to the growing road network.
Since World War II, around 50% of Britain’s hedging has been removed. This has resulted in a massive reduction of hedgehog habitat. Kim Christensen/Shutterstock
There is still hope. The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust published a report to track the animals’ movements before and after people made holes in their garden fences. The results were encouraging, with a 39% rise in hedgehog sightings following the creation of highways.
Researchers reported in a similar Study in Reading that 54% observed an increase in the activity of hedgehogs in their gardens following the creation of at least one highway. The gardens went from being isolated oases into a haven for hedgehogs.
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There are approximately 520 thousand hectares of residential garden space in urban areas in Great Britain. That’s 29.5% of the total metropolitan area. Undoubtedly, gardens are a critical place to ensure co-existence with wildlife.
Hedgehogs, despite being small animals, can travel up to two kilometers per night and visit as many as 13 gardens through well-connected habitats. While connecting two or even three parks can be beneficial, this is not enough. To allow hedgehogs access to the resources they require to survive, green spaces across neighborhoods need to be connected.
Hedgehog highways can also generate a spirit of community. The village of Kirtlington in Oxfordshire is proud of their hedgehog highway, which has 60 houses with holes, gaps and ramps of all sizes and shapes for hedgehogs. Other towns are planning to build similar networks to make the longest hedgehog road in the country.
In the UK, it is estimated that more than 120,000 highways connect around 240,000 gardens. It is estimated that around 1.1% of UK homes have a garden. Even though these creatures are extremely valuable, they still have a long way before being protected.
How to build a highway
The most important thing we can do for hedgehogs is to remove barriers that prevent them from wandering at night. To create a pathway from one garden into another, a 13cm by 13cm hole will suffice. You can drill through a wooden fence panel or cut a hole in a wire fencing. You can dig a channel underneath a gate or fence or remove a brick from a wall.
You can make as many holes as you want. The habitat network will be larger if you create holes on multiple boundaries. Some people may want to replace their fences with hedgerows to create a nesting area, a food source for hedgehogs, and a pathway.
House building in England reached a record high of 33 years in 2020/21. The construction of new homes is showing no sign of relief, and many believe that the building of fences without gaps has led to the decline of hedgehogs.
The developers have an important role to play when it comes to preventing hostile landscapes that harm the environment.
Bovis Homes and Barratt Homes have committed to including gaps in garden borders throughout their housing developments. The National Planning Policy Framework now includes guidance on how to build hedgehog highways.
Hedgehogs’ declines in recent decades have been catastrophic. Hedgehog highways offer a glimmer of hope despite all odds.