Hedgehogs are one of the nation’s favourite species, yet there’s been a worrying nationwide decline in hedgehog numbers over the last 25 years. The Regent’s Park is now the only central London Royal Park with a breeding population.
In 2014, with the help of top wildlife scientists and over 150 volunteers, we discovered a small population of around 30-40 animals living and breeding in the park. Our hedgehog team return to The Regent’s Park in May and September every year to see how this vulnerable population is faring, to help inform park management plans.
We work in partnership with The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Garden Wildlife Health Project (GWH), the Central Royal Parks Wildlife Group, two eminent wildlife scientists, Dr Nigel Reeve and Professor John Gurnell, and lots of amazing volunteer ‘Hedgehog Heroes’ to survey the hedgehogs in The Regent’s Park. We aim to find out all about this elusive nocturnal animal and better understand their needs and how we can conserve them.
Technology plays a huge part in the study, including the use of thermal imaging cameras (a rarity in this type of project) which enables us to detect animals in short grass at a distance of up to 60-70m and observe their natural behaviour without any disturbance. We’ve also carried out radio tagging and GPS tracking to determine their nesting and feeding preferences, and a DNA analysis of the hedgehogs’ spines to find out more about the genetic make-up of the population.
Find out more about our hedgehog research methods.
What we found
- A small, fluctuating hedgehog population estimated to be around 30-40 individuals. Young animals have been found every September confirming that the population is breeding.
- A worrryingly small number of hedgehogs was found in May 2016 after a number of reported deaths in summer 2015. This highlights the vulnerable nature of the population. Surveys since have seen a slow rise in numbers, however monitoring needs to continue to confirm any long-term trends.
- The hedgehogs prefer to forage in short grassland within a mosaic of shrubberies and hedges. They tend to avoid large areas of very short grass with little cover such as the sports pitches.
- They prefer to nest in areas of dense undergrowth such as brambles, ivy or hedges with dense vegetation at their base where they use fallen leaves and grass to build their expertly constructed nests.
- The hedgehogs travel up to 1.5 km, nearly one mile, per night – the equivalent of three stops on the Underground between Regent’s Park and The Angel, Islington!
- Our adult hedgehogs have an average body weight of 960g, above the national average. This means there seems to be a good supply of food in the park.
- Analysis of the responses to a 2015 local resident’s questionnaire supports the hypothesis that this is an isolated population with no confirmed recent hedgehog sightings within 1km of The Regent’s Park.
Hedgehog friendly habitats
We've drawn up some habitat management recommendations so that The Regent's Park team can continue to maintain the park in a ‘hedgehog-friendly’ way.
These plans include:
- Letting the grassland adjacent to the hedges grow longer to provide a richer environment for hedgehog foraging and nesting.
- Cutting back areas of brambles to encourage it to grow thicker and denser – providing good nesting habitats.
- Installing 50 nest boxes across the park.
- Cutting hedgehog holes in metal railings to allow hedgehogs to move more freely around the park.
- Installation of a small fence along Prince Albert Road in the Zoo car park to prevent hedgehogs moving out on to the busy road.
- Hedgehog conservation training sessions have been delivered for The Regent’s Park grounds staff and their managers.
- Our expert wildlife scientists have shared the results of the survey and recommendations at a range of conferences to help others to understand more about hedgehog conservation.
- Our research is useful guidance for other green space managers who want to understand and adopt hedgehog conservation techniques.
- During the school holidays we offered hedgehog themed family Discovery Days where hundreds of adults and children visited us to find out more about the secret lives of hedgehogs.
- We supplied cafes in The Regent’s Park with hedgehog activity sheets, allowing children to learn about hedgehog ecology in an informal and fun way.
- We continue to monitor this vulnerable population year on year to try and detect trends in the population and continue to find ways to help safeguard their future.
- We continue to monitor the use of nest boxes in The Regent’s Park and provide additional secure nesting sites, which may provide some protection against inquisitive dogs and foxes.
- The Regent’s Park team continue to implement the habitat management recommendations made to maintain the park in a ‘hedgehog-friendly’ way. There’s a focus on improving connectivity throughout the park, particularly in respect to hedgehog road casualties.
- Hedgehog sightings, alive or dead, are reported to the park office to help us build up a picture of the health of The Regent's Park population.
- Any dead hedgehogs are handed to the Garden Wildlife Health team at ZSL for post-mortem anaylsis.
Help the hedgehogs
There are lots of ways you can help support the hedgehogs in The Regent’s Park. You could adopt a hedgehog, volunteer as a ‘Hedgehog Hero’ and there are things you can do when you’re out and about in the park.