Churchyards could provide homes to threatened hedgehogs
Churchyards could be the answer to the prayers of the nation's hedgehogs, according to two wildlife agencies.
The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) say the Church of England's 10,000 churchyards could provide natural homes for hedgehogs at a time of critical shortage.
The small creatures will soon be coming out of hibernation but the organisations warn that there is not enough suitable living space for them.
Hedgehog numbers in Britain are declining in towns as well as in rural areas by around two to three per cent each year.
The worst affected areas are the South West, South East and eastern regions of England.
The PTES and BHPS are looking to the Church of England to help as they launch a new survey to monitor the decline of the British hedgehog this month.
The survey will look at hedgehogs' patterns of behaviour with a view to developing effective conservation action.
PTES chief executive Jill Nelson said continuous monitoring each year was vital to understanding the state of wild mammal populations in the UK.
"Churches collecting data from their churchyards - and other appropriate land - could be very helpful for our research," she said.
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Judith Evans, promoter of the Living Churchyard scheme for St Albans Diocese said churches could make simple changes like creating compost heaps and log piles to provide hedgehogs with food and shelter.
"There certainly seem to be far fewer hedgehogs around than there used to be," she said.
"Like all animals, hedgehogs need food and shelter, both of which are likely to be found in the increasing number of churchyards which are managed in a wildlife-friendly way.
"The Living Churchyard scheme encourages the creation of compost heaps and log piles which as well as acting as a larder, containing slugs and other invertebrates, provide shelter.
"It would be very encouraging to find evidence of hedgehogs in our churchyards, so I hope churches will take part in this survey."
David Shreeve, the CofE's national environmental adviser said the Church was committed to caring for creation.
"Our 10,000 churchyards boast a wealth of wildlife and are hopefully home to a good number of hedgehogs," he said.
To join in the Hibernation Survey visit www.hedgehogstreet.org