Key Species

Hedgehogs
 
Everybody loves Hedgehogs, they must surely be one of Britain's favourite and most recognisable animals - yet nobody really knows very much about them - where they are, what type of habitat they prefer, or how many we have left.

One of the problems is they are an unobtrusive, nocturnal animal so it’s difficult to survey for them.

In 2005 one study recorded the number of Hedgehogs that were killed on the UK’s roads. It’s a sad fact, but the number of hedgehogs killed on the roads relates to the size of the population. If there are lots of Hedgehogs there will be lots of road deaths. In the four years of the study, the numbers of dead Hedgehogs dropped at an average of 5% a year. Putting it another way, the figures suggest that a fifth of the Hedgehog population is lost every four years. If this calculation truly reflects what is happening to our Hedgehog populations, they will be extinct in the UK by 2025.

Many Crowborough residents remember seeing them frequently 10 or 20 years ago, but now say that they rarely see them.

Even more worrying, is the fact that we don’t know why they are declining.

It’s probably reasonable to assume that their natural predators, foxes and badgers are playing a part since numbers of these have been increasing in the UK for years, but there must be other factors.

Wildlife rescue organisations like Folly Wildlife Trust take in lots of Hedgehogs every year that get injured by garden strimmers or mowers, or by being caught in discarded plastic rubbish – but they report Hedgehog numbers being brought to them have been steadily     dropping over the 18 years that they have been caring for injured animals.

Many people have also pointed the finger at slug pellets. Although there havn’t been any definitive studies, there is some concern that although the slug pellets may not kill hedgehogs, the build-up of metaldehyde from eating dead or dying poisoned slugs may affect their reproductive ability.

Housing development has probably removed a great deal of the hedgehogs environment and fragmented what remains into small pieces that may not be enough to support them.

In August 2011 Crowborough Conservation launched the 'Threatened Species Project' which aims to identify and monitor key species of wildlife in Crowborough and give local people a chance to see wildlife up close.

Hedgehog survey tunnel
Now the 'Threatened Species Project' has been extended to include Hedgehogs. Crowborough Conservation are currently raising funds to purchase special survey tunnels which use inkpads to record Hedgehog footprints, to build up a better picture of exactly where Hedgehogs occur in and around Crowborough.

By working with Folly Wildlife Trust , this information could also identify suitable sites in Crowborough where Hedgehogs could be released back into the wild.


Dormice

Over the last 100 years the Dormouse has disappeared from about half its geographical range in Britain.  Loss or fragmentation of their habitat is a major factor but climate also has a big impact on Dormice.  Mild winters mean that Dormice have to come out of hibernation and look for food which is in short supply at this time of year.  Since Dormice populations tend to occur in low densities they are highly vulnerable to any change in the environment.
 
Dormouse on Bracken
 
 
 
The Common (or Hazel) dormouse is about 3 inches long (7.5cm) with a 2 inch (6.5cm) long furry tail.  Dormice can be distinguished from other mice by their ginger coloured fur, large prominent black eyes and thick bushy tail.  In fact Dormice are the only British mammal with a furry tail.

Because they are both nocturnal and arboreal they are seldom seen.

Dormouse on Bracken                          Photo courtesy of Roger Beal
 
Dormouse means “sleeping mouse”.  They spend half the year (October to May) in a winter ‘sleep’, when their body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate drop.  Even in summer, part of the day can be spent in torpor.  It is a way of reducing energy needs at times when food is hard to find.  It is thought that they tend to hibernate on the ground in tree stumps or dense leaf litter.
Hazel nut nibbled by Dormouse

Dormice eat fruits and nuts as well as pollen and nectar from flowers and will also take the occasional insect. Many of the things that Dormice feed on are only available for a short period each year.

Traditionally Dormice were thought to only occur in large areas of coppiced Hazel woodland and, until recently, ecological surveys only targeted this type of habitat. In recent years Dormice have been recorded in what were thought to be ‘untypical’ habitats including coniferous woodland, overgrown gardens, and areas of scrub. Bramble is particularly important for Dormice since it provides a safe area in which to build nests and its flowers and fruits provide food throughout the spring, summer and autumn. Blackberries in particular are a vital food source which enable Dormice to put on weight prior to hibernation.

Hedgerows are also an important habitat for Dormice, particularly where they form a link with areas of woodland or scrub. Crowborough is blessed with many miles of hedgerow and, in a recent study undertaken for a new water supply pipeline between Jarvis Brook and Rotherfield, Dormice where found in numerous roadside hedgerows.
 
 

Reptiles and Amphibians

Although Britain's native amphibians and reptiles may not be as loved by the British public as other furry or feathered creatures, they represent a very important part of the ecosystem and many play an important role in reducing the numbers of ‘pests’ in our gardens and allotments.
Common Toad

A nationwide survey, started in 2007, has found that our reptiles and amphibians are not doing well, with some species appearing to be in a very serious decline.

Even the Common frog, probably the most often seen and best loved amphibian, is becoming less common in the South of England.

Another garden dweller (and slug eater) is the Slow worm, but this species is also thought to be in decline in many areas.
 
Common Toad

There is no one reason for these declines, certainly development has had a big effect, if not by destroying the natural habitats that wildlife requires, then by the fragmentation of these habitats , for example when a new housing development or road cuts off important links between habitats such as hedgerows, woodlands and ponds.

Pond loss is a major factor in amphibian decline with ponds being filled in due to health and safety concerns, stocked with fish, polluted with pesticides, or simply left to natural succession.
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