Hedgehogs seem to hold a special place in the hearts of many people. Children across the globe have been brought up with the endearing stories of the late London-born author Beatrix Potter; one such book, published in 1905, told The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, a lovable hedgehog ‘washerwoman’ who provided a laundry service for her neighbours. According to Linda Lear’s 2007 biography, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, Potter's pet hedgehog of the same name and Kitty MacDonald, the family’s Scottish washerwoman, were the inspirations for the character.
Since then, the hedgehog has developed a strong public acceptance and adoration, being rated among Britain’s most loved garden animals in various surveys and, until recently, featuring in the logo of The Mammal Society. This adoration is not without merit. Hedgehogs offer many people a connection to nature that they might otherwise miss out on and many friends and colleagues have changed the way they’ve managed their gardens upon noticing they had hedgehogs visiting. Furthermore, they provide an important organic pest control service and, in his circa 1843 Allgemeine Naturgeschichte fur alle Stande (“General Natural History for all Conditions”), German naturalist professor Lorenz Ockenfuss wrote that we should protect the hedgehog because of their capacity as pest controllers.
Despite currently enjoying a well-deserved popularity here in the UK, their species has not always been viewed with such affection. Unfortunately, it is now human activity that threatens their very existence across much of their range, with numbers in decline. Fortunately, there are also an army of rescuers who put their lives on hold to treat and rehabilitate hedgehogs, which are an increasingly common patient. In a paper to the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2014, Elizabeth Mullineaux noted that hedgehogs make up just over half of the mammal casualties taken in by the 80 or so UK wildlife rescue centres during the late 1990s.
Hedgehogs may make up the majority of admissions for many rescue centres, but they also have the highest rehabilitation and release rate. Caroline Gould, founder of Vale Wildlife Hospital in Gloucestershire, tells me that more than 90% of their hedgehogs are rehabilitated, compared to an average of 50-60% of other species they admit.
The following sections look at the various ways in which we interact with hedgehogs, including time when they’ve been considered pests and the impact of increasing habitat fragmentation. Aspects of human-hedgehog interaction are also covered in the associated QAs, links to which can be found on the species introduction page.