Researchers are trying to find out what impact roads and traffic are having on the UK’s declining hedgehog population.
The study by Nottingham Trent University, which is part funded by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), aims to investigate how many hedgehogs are killed on UK roads each year
And it will look at if the problem is so serious it is causing local populations of the much-loved British creature to disappear completely.
It will assess which individuals, such as males or females, young or old, are most at risk of being injured or killed on the UK’s roads and whether road tunnels can effectively reduce the road risks to hedgehogs.
The research comes after the “state of Britain’s hedgehogs” report, published in 2018 by PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society revealed a 30% drop in the number of hedgehogs in urban areas since 2000.
Hedgehog numbers declined by half in rural areas in that time, the report found.
Experts say the reasons for the decline could include loss of their natural habitat and food sources, increased competition and being preyed on by other animals and deaths caused by road collisions.
A study by PTES in 2016 estimated around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed on UK roads each year, which is thought to be a major factor in their decline.
Work to understand if and how roads and traffic are harming hedgehog numbers will assess road casualty figures alongside population size, the researchers said.
The study will include a dozen sites across the UK, six of which have tunnels of various sizes to help animals pass under roads safely rather than cross them.
Nocturnal surveys and genetic analysis of hair, droppings and tissue will assess population sizes and movement, frequency of road crossings, roadkill and use of tunnels will all be closely monitored.
Researchers hope the work could be used to provide guidance to planners and developers.
Lauren Moore, a PhD student in the university’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: “We need to know whether roads are affecting the long-term viability of hedgehog populations.
“To the best of our knowledge, the impact of roads on hedgehogs has not been investigated in this way before.
“There have also been no studies to examine whether tunnels are effective at reducing hedgehog road mortality or what attributes of a tunnel could make them more effective.
“There is a huge gap in terms of the potential conservation options for this species.”
Nida Al-Fulaij, grants manager at PTES, said: “The findings from Lauren’s research will help us to idenfity whether hedgehog road mortality rates are high enough in some places to cause local populations to become extinct.
“Her work, alongside small changes we can all make to our gardens, could all help save this iconic species from further decline.”