The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) are running a public survey to help determine whether climate change is having an impact on when hedgehogs emerge from hibernation and how this might be affecting their survival.
Analysis by PTES shows that hedgehog populations have plummeted by over a third in the last 10 years. The decline of the species is attributed to a number of environmental factors, but with more extreme weather fluctuations recorded in recent seasons, might climate change be another contributing issue?
Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS explains: Hibernation behaviour is an energy saving strategy used to help hedgehogs survive when food is scarce. Mild winter weather can tempt hedgehogs to wake early from hibernation, impacting on their fat reserves and breeding times and may consequently affect the long-term survival of this species.
By studying changes in the timing of natural events, which is known as phenology, we can identify any changes in the timing of waking hedgehogs. The information gathered will be used to help scientists understand the hedgehogs life cycle better and help inform future conservation action.
PTES and BHPS launched the hibernation survey in 2012. Given the unusually late spring in 2013, it is not surprising that the peak months for records were May, June, and July, compared to April and May in 2012. In addition, the average date by which 90% of hedgehogs had been seen was later in all regions in 2013 than in 2012. In 2013, the first hedgehog was spotted an average of 10 days earlier in the south west of England compared to Scotland. Whilst its still too early to draw any long-term conclusions about the effect of climate change on hedgehog behaviour, this difference in hedgehog hibernation patterns across the UK shows a general trend of prolonged inactivity in proportion to the coldness and length of the winter as well as the influence of climatic variation:
To take part in the survey and record your sightings of hedgehogs as they start to emerge in spring after hibernation, register online before 1 February 2014 at www.hedgehogstreet.org.