Hedgehogs' inky footprints could help protect the species

Scientists have devised a novel and accurate way to monitor the elusive hedgehog – using ink to track their footprints.

Accurate estimates of population size are essential for effective wildlife management and conservation.
Dr Richard Yarnell, Nottingham Trent University

Scientists have devised a novel and accurate way to monitor the elusive hedgehog – using ink to track their footprints.

By placing footprint tunnels at sites across the UK, researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Reading found that for the first time they were able to identify the presence of the secretive mammals with almost complete accuracy.

Hedgehogs walk over ink pads in the tunnels to reach bait inside, leaving their footprints on paper as they do.

Conservationists have been searching for new methods to monitor the nocturnal creatures – thought to be declining rapidly – as they are very difficult to detect.

The research team, which also included The Mammal Society, placed ten tunnels at more than 100 sites across the UK, parallel to linear features such as hedgerows and fences.

Their work, published in the journal Mammal Review, found that they could identify the presence of hedgehogs in urban and rural sites with 95% accuracy.

The findings also revealed interesting data regarding hedgehog presence – that they are twice as likely to be found in areas with no badgers, and are more thinly spread than was previously believed. Hedgehogs were only found in 39% sites surveyed.

As a result of the work, the researchers are rolling the method out as part of the first ever national survey which aims to quantify hedgehog occupancy across England and Wales. This is being supported by the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

"Accurate estimates of population size are essential for effective wildlife management and conservation," said researcher Dr Richard Yarnell, who is based in Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

He said: "As hedgehog populations in Britain are thought to be declining rapidly, there is urgent need for a method which can be used to monitor changes in their abundance and distribution. This will help us to identify factors associated with their decline. Mammal species are very difficult to observe directly and so techniques such as this are extremely important."

Nida Al Fulaij, Grants Manager for the People's Trust for Endangered Species, who jointly funded the research with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society said: "Hedgehogs hold a special place in the hearts of the British public. Few animals are so widespread and easily recognised, but the recent drop in their numbers is alarming.

"This nationwide survey, funded as part of the PTES and BHPS hedgehog campaign, will ensure we target help where it's most needed."

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    More on Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

    Established in 1954, The Mammal Society is a charity advocating science-led mammal conservation, leading efforts to collect and share information on mammals, encourage research to learn more about their ecology and distribution, and contribute meaningfully to efforts to conserve them. For more information visit The mammal Society.

    The People's Trust for Endangered Species' work is varied and extensive ranging from direct support for conservationists to involving the public and volunteers in practical action to help specific species and habitats. For more information visit ptes.

    The British Hedgehog Preservation Society aims to encourage and give advice to the public concerning the care of hedgehogs; to encourage children to respect natural wildlife; and to fund research into behavioural habits of hedgehogs. For more information visit britishhedgehogs.

Hedgehogs' inky footprints could help protect the species

Published on 18 September 2014
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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