Everybody loves gentle hedgehogs – they remind us of road safety adverts and cuddly Beatrix Potter characters.
But a sharp decline in numbers is putting them at risk, and an animal charity is calling on householders to help in any way they can.
Les Stocker, of Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Haddenham spoke out this week, after national reports suggested that the numbers of hedgehogs in the UK is shrinking fast.
He said that the hospital, which cares for sick and injured wild animals, is seeing an increasing number of young hedgehogs with internal parasites.
Mr Stocker said that ironically, a good gauge of how well a species is doing is how many can be spotted at the side of the road who have met a sticky end.
He said: “The thing about seeing hedgehogs on the side of the road doesn’t exist anymore. We don’t see any on the roadside anymore which is very indicative of how many there are in the wild.
“We are finding over the last two years that a lot of the youngsters that are being brought to us have terrible internal parasite loads which could kill them.
“The problem needs a scientist or university to take it on, there is an imbalance at the moment and we are not quite sure what it is.”
Mr Stocker said that because of pesticides used by farmers hedgehogs are ever more naturally at home in gardens.
And he said there are plenty of practical things that people can do to protect their local hogs, starting today.
He said: “One garden is never enough for a hedgehog, they like to wander and need about ten.
“I would suggest that people speak to their neighbours and get together to make all their gardens more friendly for them so they can forage for food.
“Hedgehogs like to eat beetles, worms snails and dead meat if they can get it.
“But to help you could put out dog food, with a plate on top. They are cleverer than the cats and will be able to knock the plate off.”
Les’s top five tips for protecting your local hedgehog:
1)Don’t use any chemicals for gardening, these can be poisonous for hedgehogs and other animals.
2)Get together with neighbours to make surrounding gardens hedgehog friendly too
3)Put out dog food and water with a plate on top, so the pesky cats don’t get it
4)Make sure your garden has a bit of a rough area, which might encourage insects – the creatures hedgehogs like to eat
5)Invest in a hedgehog house, Tiggywinkles makes them. For more information visit www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk