How Simple Hedgehog Highways help New houses Make a Vital Space for Nature
Meet Nicola, a busy mum of 2 young children working as an A & E nurse for the NHS.
Nicola lives in a small village in Wittering and right next door to her home was an absolute haven for wildlife as these stunning photos show:
Of course, Nicola appreciates the need for new houses to be built for the growing population of her village. But when she heard that a housing estate was planned for these fields, her first thought was for the devastating effect this would have on the already declining wildlife.
This is her story.
Challenge – helping hedgehogs live alongside us
Let’s go back to last year. Nicola is living by these gorgeous fields and appreciates the wildlife on her doorstep. However, she is acutely aware of the decline in pollinators and the many birds, insects and mammals that we take for granted, including hedgehogs.
Nicola is lucky enough to have up to 6 hedgehogs visiting her garden every night and even 2 hibernating in a nest box. But research by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society shows that many gardens are becoming poorer homes for wildlife with increased paving, decking and reduced plant life.
Farmland and meadows are eaten up with roads and housing developments resulting in a huge loss of habitat and connectivity between remaining green spaces, leaving hedgehogs isolated.
So when Nicola heard that a housing development was being built right next door to her garden, she was understandably concerned.
As she explains:
“In July 2020 hedgehogs were included in the Red List for British Mammals which means they are officially classified as ‘vulnerable to extinction’.
An animal which people presume is abundant in our countryside is potentially not going to survive the next generation. This is unthinkable, especially when the damage to their habitat has been mostly made by us, and they actually require very little to live amongst us”
Her first thought was to get in touch with Larkfleet Homes the developers and she was reassured to see that they had incorporated bird and bat boxes into their designs, but no provision for hedgehogs. So Nicola arranged to speak with the site manager to see what could be done.
Solution – hedgehog highways built into fences
Hedgehogs forage up to 2 miles from where they nest, and an adult male hedgehog's home range is an area of about 60 acres. They need this large area to forage for food, to nest and find a mate.
Nicola’s garden is hedgehog friendly as she has gaps in her fences to neighbouring gardens, to allow hedgehogs to easily roam and find food.
All that would be needed to make the new housing development hedgehog friendly is tiny 13cm square holes in the fencing to connect the gardens. But there were concerns that this would allow access to other ‘pests’ such as foxes and rabbits which would not be popular with potential buyers
“Cue tongue biting and a realisation of a need to provide some education on wildlife, sizes of heads vs holes and the fact that a fox can scale a fence if it wanted to!”
Nicola was not prepared to give up on her prickly friends and followed up with emails and photos to Larkfleet Homes, suggesting options
“I don’t like waiting around for other people to get back to me. It seems too passive for such an important issue, so I followed up with an email, including pictures of the field before the building started, screenshots from the BHPS and examples of gravel boards and hedgehog highways signs that they could use if they chose to listen to my concerns.
I also copied this email into the chief exec. Whoops!”
Nicola presented her solution of mitigating the loss of farmland by allowing hedgehogs to freely roam through the gardens on the new development. If gravel boards and fence panels that come complete with hedgehog sized holes in them were placed in every garden fence on the development (which through bulk buying would be of minimal cost), this would make a massive difference.
Result – hedgehogs and homes in harmony
After further discussions and much persistence, Nicola was thrilled to finally receive the great news that the housing development agreed to put a hedgehog highway in all fence lines. At almost 200 houses, this will make such a difference to the wildlife who live there.
This photo was taken at the show home launch.
She has also been asked to produce an information leaflet to include in each new house buyers pack, which will explain to buyers why the highways are there and give reassurance regarding other ‘pests.’ Hedgehogs are a bonus to gardeners as they love to eat the slugs and snails which ruin plants, and kids love the signs which encourage them to think about the wildlife that is just outside their door
“We don’t have to sacrifice their environment for our homes. With a little thought we can easily share our living space. To the developer its minimum effort and peanuts financially”.
“I have had countless messages asking for advice from people in similar situations with local housing developments. Larkfleet Homes have been suitably praised on social media by myself and quite a few others. This will have a knock-on effect, as other developers will see how easy it is to share our space with wildlife.”
Thanks to Nicola’s commitment and determination everyone has agreed that financially and aesthetically, hedgehog access holes in each garden have little or no impact to the developer or homeowner, but are of immeasurable benefit to the environment and these little creatures who are struggling to survive.
Together Nicola and Larkfleet Homes have shown that some of the best solutions are the most simple.
We just have to make the first step.