THE population of hedgehogs is on the decline, according to a new report.

The spiky characters have been disappearing according to the definitive study The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs.

And now the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) are launching Hedgehog Street – a neighbourhood watch scheme for urban wildlife.

With more than 23 million UK households having access to a garden, an improvement in just one in 1,000 gardens could result in a refuge for hedgehogs around five times the size of Delamere Forest.

And according to local conservation charity the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, small changes can make a big difference.

Sue Tatman, who manages the charity’s Wildlife Friendly Gardening Scheme said: “With such a significant and relatively recent drop in hedgehog numbers, this is not a problem where you can role up in a ball and hope it will go away.

“Tidiness and efficiency are behind the loss of many of our wild creatures, both in our wider countryside and in our own backyards.

“Huge, neat and tidy fields plus the use of pesticides at home and beyond has led to a tougher time for our wildlife that once thrived on hedgerows and grasslands bursting with life. Our ‘best kept village’ outlook on gardening has often left our wildlife in second or third place, but allowing a small part of our gardens to run wild can often be all it takes.”

At the beginning of last century Britain was full of hedgehogs with an estimated population of 30 million. In 1995 however, it was suggested that the number of hedgehogs in the UK had dropped to around 1.5 million. This recent report shows that the downward trend appears to be continuing.

Hundreds of Cheshire Wildlife Trust members have already made a difference to their local wildlife through the Wildlife Friendly Gardening Scheme, from a simple window box to Girl Guide groups and schools creating a purpose-built nature gardens.

A previous local hedgehog survey in the Trust’s members’ magazine The Grebe also found nearly all hedgehog sightings in Cheshire to be within people’s gardens.

Sue Tatman added: “Gardening for wildlife is often about the balance between providing a helping hand like a hedgehog house, and letting nature do the work for you by allowing a wildflower meadow to develop in part of your lawn, or using hedges as a natural barrier instead of fences or walls.”