Swanage looks for hedgehog heroes to beat prickly problem

Wildlife lovers in Swanage are being asked to deliver Dorset’s thirtieth hedgehog friendly town as a fund raising appeal is launched for a hospital to treat a growing number of injured animals.

A public meeting has been called at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Swanage on Saturday 1st April 2023 to raise awareness of making the town and its gardens more hedgehog friendly as the animals start to come out of hibernation.

Exterior of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Swanage
Emmanuel Baptist Church

A meeting to help save Swanage hedgehogs will be held at Emmanuel Baptist Church

Loveable animals at risk of extinction

Despite the date there’s nothing funny about what is happening to hedgehogs, which have been placed on a red list of species facing extinction by the International Union of Conservation for Nature.

A call to action has been organised by the Dorset Mammal Group in an attempt to raise awareness of a rapid decline in the hedgehog population and to start a network of Swanage folk prepared to help monitor their numbers in the town.

The meeting, starting at 11 am, has been set up in response to a national survey of hedgehog numbers in 2022 which recorded fewer than 10 live sightings in Swanage among 150,000 spotted across England.

Theories put forward for the dearth of sightings in Swanage included a suggestion that badgers were taking a large proportion of the worms, beetles and other insects which make up the bulk of the hedgehogs’ diet.

But Dorset Mammal Group couldn’t discount the feeling that the lack of a hedgehog support group in Swanage meant that no one was looking out for the nocturnal visitors and believes the time has come to put that right.

Susy Varndell, fund raising in Wareham for a Dorset hedgehog hospital

Population is declining at an alarming rate

Susy Varndell of the Dorset Mammal Group, who is leading a fundraising push for Dorset’s first hedgehog hospital, said:

“We are holding our first meeting in Swanage on 1st April and want to advertise it as widely as possible, to create a community of local people who will help us to record sightings, look out for injured animals and help raise awareness of the hedgehog’s plight.

“It has been estimated that during the 1950s the UK population was around 30 million, but recently the Mammal Society has put the current population figure at just over 500,000.

“The population is still declining at an alarming rate, so we are trying to do something about it in Dorset by developing towns and villages into hedgehog friendly habitats – and it will be wonderful to include Swanage to the growing list.”

Britain's best loved mammal, the hedgehog
Colin Varndell

Hedgehogs are beginning to emerge for the spring

Call to develop hedgehog friendly streets

Susy added:

“As hedgehogs travel around one mile every night in the quest to find enough food, we are trying to make their lives easier by encouraging residents to develop hedgehog friendly streets.

“This includes making holes in or under garden fences and walls for hedgehogs to pass through, by providing food, water and shelter in their gardens and by not using slug pellets.

“They are poisonous to hedgehogs and cause a large number of deaths, but besides that if you have a hedgehog in your garden, you also have a very efficient consumer of slugs!”

Wareham Town Crier Jacquie Hall promoted the hedgehog fair

Fund raising fair for hedgehog hospital

A hedgehog fund raising fair in Wareham Town Hall on Saturday 25th March 2023 was attended by hundreds of people and is likely to raise at least £1,000 towards plans for a new hedgehog hospital in Dorset.

Town Crier Jacquie Hall was raising awareness for the event and said that Wareham and Sandford had already become hedgehog friendly communities and were involved in a number of projects to make the animals safer and more welcome.

But Wareham Hedgehog Coordinator Kate Brailsford said that also resulted in a large number of injured animals being reported to members and frequently resulted in trips to the closest volunteer centres which treated them – at Poole or Portland.

Swanage may soon join the list of Dorset’s hedgehog friendly towns

A hedgehog fundraising fair at Wareham Town Hall was well attended

Heritage Lottery funds applied for

Kate said:

“Early spring is the time of year when we start to see more hedgehogs around and because our group has become more established, we get a lot of people contacting us when they see an injured animal.

“We do what we can to make Wareham and Sandford hedgehog friendly, and it really does help to build up a strong group of volunteers who can give out advice, which is hopefully what Swanage can achieve, too.”

It is hoped that grants will be forthcoming from Heritage Lottery funds and other benefactors to help reach a £100,000 target to set up a hedgehog hospital in central Dorset which could cope with the growing numbers of injured animals being reported every year.

The Dorset Mammal Group is still looking for a suitable location either with stables or space for two shipping containers where they could set up a treatment centre and accommodation for recovering hedgehogs, along with professional staff.

Colin Varndell was selling his wildlife photos to raise funds for the hedgehogs

“Volunteers under so much pressure”

Susy Varndell said:

“A business plan has been written with a view to developing a hedgehog hospital and after doing a lot of research with vets in Dorset we are now in phase two where we can launch fund raising and apply for grants.

“Currently, volunteers who look after hedgehogs are under so much pressure while vets are under no obligation to treat injuries – and indeed, not all of them have the knowledge of how to, either.

“But if we can raise £100,000 we can get an operation up and running with professionals trained to treat the hedgehogs and volunteers to help behind the scenes.”

The first official red list for Britain’s native mammals was published by the International Union of Conservation for Nature in 2020, which declared 11 species to be under a viable threat of extinction in the next 20 years.

Hedgehogs, dormice and two species of bats were listed as vulnerable to extinction, while water voles and red squirrels were on an endangered list.

Hedgehog foraging at dusk. Dorset, UK June 2015

A hedgehog forages at dusk in a Dorset forest

Further information

  • Discover some easy steps towards making a garden hedgehog friendly at Hedgehog Street
  • Become a part of Hedgehog Awareness Week, starting on 30th April 2023
  • See more of Colin Varndell’s Dorset wildlife photography on his website

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