Do Badgers Really Predate Hedgehogs?

Do Badgers Really Predate Hedgehogs?
Photo by Hans Veth / Unsplash

Hedgehog numbers are declining at a rapid rate in both urban and rural environments. While there are a number of reasons, many blame the badger. A simple search of "do badgers attack hedgehogs" gives mixed messages which I am seeking to clarify. In this blog post I have taken information from both sides to show a clearer picture.

Hedgehogs

A hedgehog's body is covered with approximately 6,000 closely packed hollow, creamy white spines, becoming brown at the base and pure white at the tip. On their underside, hedgehogs have coarse, grey-brown fur. Hedgehogs roll up into a tight ball when faced with danger, helping to protect their extremities.

selective focus photography of hedgehog on ground
Photo by Piotr Łaskawski / Unsplash

Hedgehogs are 22 - 28 cm long and have a short, inconspicuous tail, small ears and relatively long legs, generally hidden under a 'skirt' of long hairs. Being nocturnal (out at night) it can make spotting hedgehogs harder. The People's Trust for Endangered Species says hedgehogs can move up to 40 metres a minute! Hedgehogs eat ground-dwelling invertebrates such as worms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, millipedes and earwigs. However, they can eat cat and dog food left outside by people. Baby hedgehogs (hoglets) are born blind and remain blind for the first two weeks and weigh about 1-3 oz, 30-85 grams. In comparison, adult hedgehogs can weigh between 450 grams and 1500 grams. Finally, hedgehogs can live an average of 2 years, but some can live up to 5 years.

Badgers

The British badger (Meles meles) are characterised by their black and white-striped face, grey fur and short furry tail. It makes the badger look like no other UK mammal. Badgers typically weigh 10–12kg, with a body length of about 90cm, making them the most prominent land predator in the UK. Badgers are found across the UK, with the highest numbers in southern England. The ideal badger habitat is a mixture of woodland and open country.

black and white badger photo
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge / Unsplash

Badgers and Hedgehogs

Badgers are omnivores that can eat and survive on both plant and animal matter. The Woodland Trust says that around 80% of a badger's diet comprises earthworms. Badgers can eat hundreds of earthworms in a single night – but they also eat slugs and other invertebrates. Fruit and small mammals such as voles and rabbits are part of a badger's diet. This typically happens when earthworms are scarce. Finally, the Woodland Trust wrote that badgers are the main predators of hedgehogs in the UK.

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Carley Pettett wrote an article titled Separating Fact from Fiction: badgers and Hedgehog Decline, for Discover Wildlife; while Carley says that badgers and foxes can attack hedgehogs the data is unknown on how common this behaviour truly is. Carley also reported that it is complex because all three species eat invertebrates and compete for the same food sources. Finally, Carley said that you're less likely to find hedgehogs where badgers and foxes are present, but simple correlation does not imply causation. In short, it's not clear how predators contribute to the long-term hedgehog decline.

The Badger Trust says that it is a myth that badgers are the leading cause of hedgehog decline. The Badger Trust and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust have written that badgers and hedgehogs have lived together for thousands of years. Hedgehog numbers only recently started to fall, and the sudden and steep rate of hedgehog decline cannot be attributed to predation. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust agrees with The Badger Trust by writing that there is little or no objective evidence that predation is a significant factor in the hedgehog decline. Furthermore, dietary studies, particularly of badgers, consistently show that hedgehogs make up a tiny proportion of their diet (less than 1%). The same is true of foxes, where it has been shown that hedgehogs make up about 0.5% of fox prey (although this might have local variation).

However, some media outlets have written articles citing badgers for recent declines. Both The Telegraph, Spectator and Daily Mail have written articles on the topic. According to Media Bias Fact Check, The Telegraph is rated as 'Mixed' for factual reporting due to poor sourcing of information and some failed fact checks. Likewise, the Spectator is ranked as Mostly Factual in reporting rather than High due to misleading articles and a few failed fact checks regarding climate change. Finally the Daily Mail, which is rated questionable due to numerous failed fact checks and poor information sourcing.

The Telegraph reported on a study, not linked within the article, written by researcher Dr Anouschka Hof, of Royal Holloway University of London. In an interview with the Daily Mail with the headline, "Hedgehog for lunch! Booming badgers have developed a taste for their spiky little rivals". Dr Anouschka Hof says, "They [hedgehogs] have been declining over the last decade, especially in areas where there are many badgers." Dr. Anouschka Hof goes on to say, "Until recently, badgers did little to damage the hedgehog population because the smaller animals had plenty of places to hide. However, the loss of hedgerows and the spread of intensive farming has reduced cover." Lastly, Dr. Anouschka Hof said, "Although badgers prefer a diet of earthworms, they will eat hedgehogs when they are hungry enough."

black and white animal on brown dried leaves
Photo by Hans Veth / Unsplash

Mary Wakefield for the Spectator wrote Kill Badgers to save hedgehogs. In their article, Mary wrote that "badgers are a hedgehog's sole predator in the UK wild. They're mustelids, cousins of the sinewy, brutal wolverine, with the same long, curved claws." Mary described how badgers supposedly eat hedgehogs and that the reporter had seen this. The reporter wrote that there are decent studies suggesting that where there was suitable habitat, the hedgehog population more than doubled over five years when badger numbers were controlled. However, none were linked within the article. Finally, Mary wrote that the only thing I can think to do for them [hedgehogs] is to risk the wrath of eco-fanatics and lend tentative support to badger culling.

Hopefully this blog post has helped to sum up the debate about badgers and hedgehogs. If you feel inspired to help hedgehogs in your garden then look no further. I am dedicating some of my posts over the next few months to this wonderful animal. If you want to know how to build a hedgehog house follow our blog using the newsletter or by visiting our socials page.