Living the Wild Life

Series 3, Episode 3: Hedgehogs & Slugs

Colin is near Bandon in Cork this week and he is on the trail of one of our best-loved small mammals. Everybody loves hedgehogs and Amy Haigh is no different. She loves them so much she is working on a PhD about hedgehogs. Amy takes Colin on her nightly trip on the trail of the ten hedgehogs that she has radio tagged. And they even find a new hedgehog to tag and Colin's van gets used as Amy's workstation. But what do the locals think about Amy trekking around in torchlight late at night searching for her little friends? DJ Driscoll owns one of the fields that Amy uses for her research and he takes up Colin's offer to learn more about hedgehogs.

What do hedgehogs eat? Colin is meeting up with Dr. Evelyn Moorkens who is an expert on slugs that are an important part of the hedgehogs' diet. Colin and Evelyn explore some woodland and Colin learns some interesting facts about slugs.

"Just before I started making this new series I called my good friend, Conor Kelliher from Bat Conservation Ireland to ask him about any ideas he might have. He told me about a really good post graduate student doing what he thought was the first Phd on hedgehogs in Ireland. I love hedgehogs, they are my favourite small mammal so it was an easy decision to make."

Colin Stafford Johnson

Amy Haigh
I am a PhD student at University College Cork, carrying out research on the European hedgehog. I am currently starting my third season of fieldwork.

The European hedgehog, which is protected under appendix three of the Berne convention, is probably one of our most familiar mammals. However, although a lot of research has been done in other countries, such as Morris and Reeves work in Britain (1969,1981) and Kristianssons work in Sweden (1984), no research has been carried out on the ecology of the hedgehog in Ireland. Therefore all of our knowledge was based on research carried out in the UK and mainland Europe, notably by Morris (1969), Reeve (1981) and Jackson (2001) in the UK and Kristiansen (1981) in Sweden. And while it could be assumed that the hedgehogs' activity here would be very similar to that of its English counterparts, differing landscape, weather conditions, land use practises and a more depauperate fauna in Ireland may attribute to certain differences in their behaviour here.

One of the main aims of my project is to investigate habitat use, as well as population density in rural sites with different intensities of land use and habitat type. It is hoped that this will give an insight into the factors effecting hedgehog distribution in Ireland. Farming practices in Ireland have undergone drastic changes in the last century; from the widespread intensification of farming practices to the recent rise in organic farming. The benefit of such measures to mammals such as the hedgehog is largely unknown. Factors effecting the distribution of hedgehogs are particularly important because of the steady decline in hedgehog numbers in rural areas (Dowding, 2006).

Unfortunately, dead hedgehogs are an all too familiar site on Ireland's roads. These deaths generally occur during the breeding season when the males are trying to encompass the range of as many females as possible. This generally results in a male bias in road related mortalities (Huijser and Bergers, 2000). The hedgehog is one of the most commonly killed mammal on Irelands roads (Smiddy, 2002) (Sleeman et al., 1985), and given the growth in infrastructure, unless mitigation measures are put in place, this is set to increase. Therefore one of the objectives of my study is to investigate the interaction between hedgehogs and roads.

Twenty two animals have currently been monitored by radio tracking, and already interesting differences have been observed in the hedgehog's behaviour here in comparison to its European counterparts. As a protected Species under appendix 3 of the Berne Convention and under The Wildlife Acts (1976) (2000) and with recent declines recorded in their numbers in the UK (Dowling, 2006) the need to rectify the gaps that we currently have on the hedgehog in Ireland have never been more important. I therefore hope that knowledge gained from this research will be of benefit to future management strategies to conserve this unique and much loved mammal.

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