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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Students Take Action Against Nationwide Hedgehog Decline

Campus Critters Find Themselves in a P(r)ickle

by Anastasia Goelitz

Imagine you are a hedgehog on campus. Last autumn, you somehow ended up in some garden, spent the winter there and now that it is spring, and you are awake again, you desperately need to get somewhere with food. But you just fell onto High Street and you struggle to walk over the cobblestones because you get stuck in the gaps. And where to anyway? There are barely any hiding places or food sources nearby and any larger greenspaces are cut off by busy streets. So you struggle on, trying to climb the edge of the kerb while a bus is approaching fast…

Now, you might think, how likely is it for a hedgehog to get lost on campus? As a matter of facts, they are very likely to appear there! The European Hedgehog, which is native to the UK lives in grass-, heath- and woodland habitats but occurs quite commonly in gardens and urban areas. They are nocturnal omnivorous animals, feeding mainly on beetles, worms, caterpillars, slugs as well as bird eggs and chicks and generally hibernate from November to March or April under leaves, in hedges or beneath wood piles.

While the European population in their natural range is stable according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the UK population has been rapidly declining, having lost between 30% and 75% on the mainland since 2000. Reasons for this drastic drop in numbers include farming methods, especially pesticides, cars and urbanization but mainly align with the general causes of the biodiversity crisis: habitat destruction and compartmentalisation and with this lack of food resources and retreatment spaces. Hedgehogs are an important part of the food web, as they control insect populations and pests, while keeping green spaces and gardens healthy.

In response to the sudden plunge in the UK population, various nature conservation groups have taken action by setting up response systems for sightings of injured or ill hedgehogs, taking preventative measures and, maybe most importantly, informing the public. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society launched the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative in 2018 that has now reached Aberdeen Uni. 

After an alumnus of the university had reached out to them, the Secret Garden Society started a collaboration with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, registering the university officially with Hedgehog Friendly Campus, hoping to obtain this certification. But before this title can officially be claimed, a group of volunteers that is now forming has to complete a number of activities to receive the bronze certificate of the initiative. These include fundraising, events, actions and promotion of the issue.

So far, the group has been focused recruiting volunteers and assessing the risks hedgehogs face on campus, so they can concentrate their direct action effectively. They hope to raise more awareness among students with outreach events such as a pub quiz and arts and crafts session that will produce informational merch and signs which are then displayed on campus. Every Sunday the volunteers meet at 1 pm at the Secret Garden to plan and execute their actions.

With spring coming, the activities aim at providing water and feeding opportunities around campus, for example by reducing mowing and increasing wildflower patches. ‘The most important thing is habitat connectivity.’, says Student Hedgehog Champion Ainhoa Burgos Aguilera. Hedgehogs are having trouble moving between green spaces on campus and finding food. Habitat corridors will make it a lot safer for them and benefit many other species as well. In addition, the next winter is already on the mind of the hedgehog ambassadors, with plans to build hedgehog houses for shelter. 

The final goals they are working towards, which include a litter-free campus and connecting the green areas, could be supported by a larger biodiversity motion that will be presented to student council on the 28th of February by the Environment and Ethics Committee. If this motion is passed, it will pave the way for the hedgehog group to lobby the university actively to make changes in the interest of increasing biodiversity on campus. But even now, they are determined to do the best they can to make Aberdeen Uni campus hedgehog friendly.

For more information, contact the Secret Garden Society on their socials (Facebook/Instagram/email) or stop by one of their Sunday sessions.


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