By Naomi Harris, GLOBUS Correspondent
When we think of biodiversity loss, we tend to picture deforestation of the Amazon, or raging wildfires in Australia, or oil spills in Mauritius. However, the reality is that biodiversity loss is happening on our very doorstep. In fact, “more than one in 10 of the UK’s wildlife species are threatened with extinction”.
Over the past 50 years, we have destroyed over half of the UK’s biodiversity. Since 1970, there has been a 41% decline and 33% little change on nearly 700 species in the UK. This is largely due to the increasing UK population and the need for new housing developments. On average we lose about 17,000 hectares of land to a new building every year. These developments have resulted in the further fragmentation of natural habitats, destroying natural ecosystems that have been around for hundreds of years. Furthermore, it prevents the gene-flow of populations, which increases the possibility for genetic diseases to wipe out entire populations of local wildlife.
“The decline of biodiversity around the world – including right here in the UK – is setting us on a path to catastrophe that will soon become impossible to avoid. Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to human wellbeing”Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth
The repercussions are not just felt by our wildlife, but by each and every one of us. Biodiversity is crucial for several ecosystem services that help put food on the table, water in our glasses and create the air that we breathe. Local wildlife is essential in creating the natural equilibrium needed to sustain life on this planet.
One of Britain’s favourite mammal, the hedgehog, is on the endangered list. In the past 50 years, there are now only at a third of what they once were. This much-loved creature now features as a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
How did we get here?
According to estimates, around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed annually on our roads alone. The loss of prey availability has also impacted its numbers. The increase in pesticides and chemical treatments have devastated slug populations, which are hedgehog’s main source of food. Paired with the loss of their natural habitat, it is no wonder their population numbers have dropped so drastically in recent years.
However, all hope is not lost. There are many things we can do to help hedgehog populations thrive again.
Firstly, the issue of fragmentation is greatly affecting their numbers, a simple way to do this is by creating a wildlife corridor between yours and neighbours’ gardens. Just creating a 5-inch square gap in your fences, that allows for wildlife such as the hedgehog to pass through, can make all the difference. Already communities in the UK are coming together to do this, like in Solihull which was the first Hedgehog Improvement Area in the country.
You can also help by providing them with food. Meat-based dog or cat food can be a great supplement to their diet. Avoid milk and bread which are not good for their digestive system. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society also have some great information page on what to do when you find a hedgehog that looks unwell or injured.
Together we can help protect biodiversity in Britain and help save this much-loved animal.