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Hedgehog sightings jump in Britain

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

If this song...

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DETROW: ...Reminds you of speeding over rolling green hills, fighting robots and collecting gold rings...

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DETROW: You already know a hedgehog. With his blue spikes and red sneakers, Sonic is arguably the world's most famous hedgehog. But in Britain, the hedgehog - and now we're talking about the actual animal - the hedgehog is a national icon.

HUGH WARWICK: You could fit one in two hands quite easily. They're very benign. They roll up into a ball when frightened, and they are the favorite wild animal in the United Kingdom.

DETROW: That's ecologist Hugh Warwick of the Hedgehog Preservation Society.

WARWICK: For me, the hedgehog is the most important creature on the planet, partly because it's a wild animal that you have an opportunity of getting close to. It doesn't run away because it doesn't attack you. It has no fight-or-flight response. It means that if you see one in your garden, you have an opportunity to look at this truly magnificent example of the natural world.

DETROW: Despite their special place in the hearts of Brits, hedgehog populations have been declining for years, but a new survey has may be brought some hope. According to a survey by BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, the percentage of gardeners spotting hedgehogs in their yard is up. Thirty-three percent of respondents say they saw the creature in their garden last year. It's up from 31% the previous year. Not a cause for celebration just yet, Warwick says.

WARWICK: I'm not quite at the point of ordering out marching bands and having bunting and streamers, but, you know, the - having the sight of a leveling-off in the population decline in suburbia is a good thing.

DETROW: The 2022 State of Britain's Hedgehogs report also found that the animal's urban and suburban populations might be stabilising. The report notes that local conservation efforts and advocacy have been partially responsible, but Warwick says the picture is more bleak in rural areas, where human activity is degrading hedgehog habitats.

WARWICK: Hedgehog food, macro invertebrates, the bigger bugs and beasts, the worms and beetles, we've killed off that. But we've also chopped up their landscape into smaller and smaller pieces with busy roads and large open fields of intensive agriculture.

DETROW: Still, Warwick says, the fact that people are even paying close enough attention to notice these small beasts is a good thing.

WARWICK: That's the beginning of the journey. You've begun to pay attention. You're beginning to care. Then maybe you'll start to garden in a wildlife-friendly manner.

DETROW: Warwick says that hedgehogs are generalists when it comes to survival. They're not super particular about the habitat they survive in. So...

WARWICK: The hedgehog is acting very much like a canary in the coal mine. It's telling us something bad is happening. If the hedgehog can't survive, we should be really worried.

DETROW: So the hedgehog saved the world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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