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Posted: 26th March 2024

Pilot project to track UK hedgehog numbers
The number of hedgehogs in the UK is declining, especially in the countryside.
Researchers are using AI to help monitor populations.

A new wildlife monitoring project that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to track hedgehog populations is being piloted.

The National Hedgehog Monitoring Programme (NHMP) is looking at how hedgehog numbers are changing year-on-year in various parts of the UK.

The data will give scientists and conservationists a clearer picture of how the species is doing in different areas and habitats to help inform conservation measures.

There are an estimated 879,000 hedgehogs in the UK, but there is growing evidence of a significant decline in population. The number of hedgehogs in rural areas of the UK is estimated to have fallen by between 30 and 75 per cent since 2000.

The researchers are using trial cameras to monitor hedgehog activity in different habitats, including gardens, parks, farmland, and woodland.

Last year, the cameras were placed at 13 different sites, capturing thousands of images. AI has been used to sort through the images to discard ones that contain humans. Home-based volunteers are now being sought to confirm and classifying images that captured hedgehogs.

By the end of the three-year pilot project, the researchers are aiming to be monitoring 40 sites.

NHMP is led by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, Zoological Society of London, Durham University and Mammal Web.

Dr Henrietta Pringle, NHMP coordinator at People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “For the first time in the history of hedgehog conservation we’re using AI to open up new opportunities, which is extremely exciting. Previous studies have estimated hedgehog populations, but there has never been a rigorous nationwide survey of them - until now.

“We know hedgehogs are struggling, especially in the countryside, but before we can put practical conservation measures in place we need to understand where they are and why they’re declining. This is the first study where populations are measured year after year, in the same location, which will produce vital data and allow us to identify those at risk, which in time will hopefully help us to reverse the decline.”

Information about how to volunteer is available on the People’s Trust for Endangered Species website.

Image © Shutterstock

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