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Call For Volunteer Hedgehog-Spotters

Call For Volunteer Hedgehog-Spotters

A pioneering new three-year pilot project – the National Hedgehog Monitoring Programme (NHMP) – has been launched. For the first time, this will enable robust estimates of hedgehog populations in different habitats across the country, show how these are changing year on year, and, in time, give a national estimate of Britain’s hedgehog population. The new project utilises sophisticated, cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI), which is a world-first in hedgehog conservation.

Photo: Paul Genge for Hedgehog Street

Led by wildlife charities The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, ZSL’s London HogWatch, Durham University and MammalWeb, and largely funded by Natural England, this unique combination of AI, trail cameras and home-based volunteers will produce crucial insights into the factors causing hedgehog populations to plummet, and enable conservationists to implement practical conservation measures to try to reverse the decline.

The NHMP uses trail cameras to capture images of hedgehogs (and other wildlife) in different habitats, including urban parks, private gardens, woodlands and farmland. Barnes Common was one of the locations surveyed last year.

AI algorithms sort all the images captured, minimising the numbers of blank or human images, and maximizing the number of animal images for home-based volunteers – known as ‘spotters’ – to identify. Once the images are classified, a team of analysts can produce vital population numbers and information. The algorithms have been developed by Conservation AI, machine learning specialists based at Liverpool John Moores University.

The NHMP team, with the help of a pilot group of volunteers, has started the enormous task of checking the images from the 13 sites surveyed in 2023. Hedgehogs have been spotted at six of them so far, and many other interesting species, such as tawny owls, stoats and red squirrels have also been seen.

Hedgehog spotted as part of the National Hedgehog Monitoring Programme

Volunteers from all corners of the UK are needed to make the project a success and can take part from the comfort of their own homes. Last year trail cameras were placed at 13 different sites across the country, from Dorset to Glasgow, including Barnes Common. 30 trail cameras were placed at each site and were left in situ for a month, generating thousands of images. The species in these images need to be identified. The process is straight-forward: simply look through a sequence of images, tag which species you see, and continue! Free training and ID guides are available online. To find out more and to sign up, visit www.nhmp.co.uk.

Over the three years of the NHMP’s pilot, the team will place cameras at an increasing number of sites across Britain. The ambition is to have surveyed 40 sites by the end of the trial, which should produce enough data to derive a more accurate estimate of the numbers of hedgehogs in the different habitats surveyed, and give a robust national estimate. Going forward the existing sites will be monitored annually, and new sites added. To sign up and become a ‘spotter’, visit www.nhmp.co.uk.

Are you interested in helping local hedgehogs? You may have heard of a local initiative helping hedgehogs gain access to more gardens, alleyways and green spaces: the Barnes Hedgehog Superhighway. Established by then-local resident Michel Birkenwald 12 years ago, the highway is a network of alleyways and small access holes connecting local gardens. Michel and his Barnes Hedgehogs partner, Robin, have been working on extending the highway for over a decade by cutting holes in the back fences and walls of willing Barnes residents. Join our hedgehog friendly walk on the 27th of April to find out more about hedgehogs and how you can help them, and book your Hedgehog Superhighway hole-cutting appointment today!