by Bob Taylor, STRI’s head of ecology and environment
This month we are celebrating British hedgehog week in support of our friends at the British Hedgehog Preservation Trust, one of our Golf Environment Awards partners. So, I thought it would be appropriate to consider this enigmatic mammal a little further.
Hedgehogs are an emotive flagship species that are declining due to overtidying in the countryside, which can result in a fragmented, or even a total loss of habitat. All of us working within golf know just how easy it is to get drawn into overtidying, and often we don’t recognise we are doing it at all.
For example, my partner used to remove leaves during winter, but has since stopped as she now understands the many insects, spiders and other creatures that so depend upon them.
Hedgehogs are no different, and they collect leaves as they are falling to create a safe place in which to hibernate during winter. They may also use the base of hollowing trees too, we found two last year curled up together in a wintering hidey-hole during one of our ecology visits.
Hedgehogs have always been closely associated with humans, and we have given them other common names in different parts of the UK. In Fife names like ‘erchin’ have been used, in Somerset ‘hedgepig’ used to be common, others may be ‘porcupig’ ‘pricky-back’ or even that colossus of 20th century literature ‘Mrs Tiggy-winkle’.
This year, after a terrible winter, I saw two squashed hedgehogs on a nearby road, and one dead in a canal. It is difficult to stop deaths on the road, but in canals could there not be mammal ladders at intervals of say 150mm?
This little hog would have swum back and forth trying to find an escape only to become exhausted and drown. On your golf course do you have steep sided ponds or ditches? How do snakes, hedgehogs, or other creatures get out if fallen in? Could you place dead wood in the bank sides at intervals, or ladders to allow their escape?
Electric fences are a big problem for hedgehogs. They will walk under and through fences which if electrified will cause them to curl up and eventually die of electrocution. All that is needed to stop this happening is to ensure that the first run of wire is installed at a minimum of 150mm above ground level.
Hedgehogs can also become trapped in excavated pits, but this can be prevented by filling them in, or covering them at the end of each working day until works are completed. Hedgehogs can also become trapped in pipes, so make sure they are stored responsibly.
Interestingly, many hedgehogs do appear to be evolving to run away from danger rather than curling up, although still too many rely on the tried and tested method of curl up and hope for the best.
Hedgehogs are sadly subject to their own natural disease pressures. It is important to remember that hogs will eat anything, and small insect’s such as beetles, could have chemical residues on them.
A hedgehog will eat 20 an hour and hundreds in a week. This could have a cumulative effect which, if stored in fat, may manifest in winter whilst they are hibernating and cause health issues.
There are few natural enemies, but cars are a problem, and fencing or creating limitations to travel will also impact their movement.
It is important to try to retain as much corridor habitat as you can by way of natural rough, i.e. leaves, dead wood, and longer rough grassland managed without cutting.
Golf is fast becoming recognised for its positive role in the landscape, and if we remember to maintain connected habitat patches, we can ensure free flow of movement across the course and out into areas of the wider countryside.
If we can remember not to overtidy, create hedgerows, retain hollow trees but retain dead trees, and minimise use of chemicals, then at least on our golf courses the hedgehogs future seems fairly secure.
- Don’t overtidy, instead leave areas in which animals can safely hibernate.
- Create escape routes in steep sided ponds and ditches.
- If you have electric fences, ensure that the first run of wire is installed at a minimum of 150mm above ground level.
- Fill in or cover excavated pits.
- Store pipes responsibly.
- Apply chemicals with care.
- Open up areas on the course to create wildlife corridors.
- Use grassland management techniques, rather than cutting.
The Golf Environment Awards are developing a calendar and all proceeds from the sales will go to the Hedgehog Preservation Trust.
We are looking for some brilliant pictures from golf courses within the UK, so if you have any good snaps, post them on social media using the hashtag #GEAcalendar or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, stating which month they were taken.
Hopefully we will be able to get the calendar up and running for the benefit of our declining hedgehog populations.