A large, healthy male hedgehog has been spotted in Walthamstow during a bat survey, raising hopes for the steadily declining species.
Hedgehogs are so rare that this is only the fourth time in five years that one has been recorded in the borough. It was seen in Walthamstow Wetlands, an area of natural habitat spanning five reservoirs that is due to open in 2017.
London Wildlife Trust ranger Charlie Owens was assisting the survey led by the Huma Pearce of the London Bat Group when he heard the nocturnal mammal.
He said: “As we were sitting there filling in data there was an unmistakable rustle among the willow leaf litter. I grabbed my torch and went into the trees to search for the culprit. And there he was, sitting happily munching on an unfortunate worm. In mild disbelief at our luck we were able to pick him up and get a closer look…and smell.”
Hedgehogs have virtually disappeared from many parts of London – so any sighting at all is something to be celebrated.
Ten years ago there were an estimated 3 million hedgehogs in the UK, and 60 years ago there were believed to be 30 million. But numbers have since dropped to less than 1 million, and these iconic animals have virtually disappeared from large parts of London – particularly central areas. Hedgehogs are classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and at their current rate of decline, 5% per year, it is estimated they could be extinct in much of Britain by 2025.
Mathew Frith, London Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation, said: “Spotting a hedgehog at Walthamstow Wetlands is a great find and highlights the need for a comprehensive survey around the reservoirs and within the Lee Valley, so we can establish exactly how many there are and what measures we should take to protect them. Records of hedgehog within central London are very scant, with Regent’s Park hosting the only known breeding population. Unfortunately this location is now under threat from High Speed Two, making the protection of hedgehog populations even more important.”
While increasing traffic levels, expanding development, and fewer suitable garden habitats have played a big part in reducing the capital’s hedgehog numbers, it is not too late to reverse the trend. The ongoing creation of Walthamstow Wetlands has focused largely on enhancing habitat for migrating birds, but this week’s sighting shows that conservation efforts there will also play a crucial in supporting rare mammals such as hedgehog and water vole, as well as bats.