In an effort to make London more hospitable for hedgehogs, Michel Birkenwald is building passages for them to travel from one green space to the next.
Life for an urban hedgehog certainly can’t be easy. Lovers of hedges and gardens and all things green and shrubby, walls and fences create a manmade maze that hampers the hedgehog’s ability to easily navigate about the city.
What to do? Give them wee doors and tunnels, of course. Which is exactly what Michel Birkenwald has been doing for the last four years.“I am just an average guy who decided to help one of our most adorable mammals,” says Birkenwald, a jeweler who moonlights as a hedgehog hero.
Based in the South West London neighborhood of Barnes, Birkenwald founded Barnes Hedgehogs and now he and his hedgehog co-crusaders drill holes for free around town and provide signage to ensure that nobody tries to inadvertently close the openings.
Over at Atlas Obscura, Jessica Leigh Hester likens the hedgehog passageways to other animal crossing efforts:
"Tunnels add to hedgehog-friendly habitats by reconnecting a network of green spaces—parks, gardens, yards—that had been fractured. The scaled-down crossings provide safe passage past obstacles—similar to how dozens of overpasses and tunnels have been built to give grizzlies, wolves, coyotes, and other large mammals a safe way across the four lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. Only smaller, and British."
And oh so wonderfully British they are. In 2013, the hedgehog took the prize in a BBC poll to name a national species. “It is a quintessentially British creature,” says Ann Widdecombe, a former MP and a patron of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Those last four words sum things up pretty well. Also named Britain's favorite mammal by the Royal Society of Biology; if there's any doubt, it doesn’t get more British than the visual aid below.
But beloved as the quilled cuties are, they have really been having a tough row to hoe. Daniel Allen of Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, points out that in the 1950s, Britain had 30 million hedgehogs shuffling about – now, there are under a million.
“The plight is such that the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and People’s Trust for Endangered Species launched Hedgehog Street in 2011 to encourage people to champion the species and its habitat,” writes Keele. The group now has more than 47,000 people registered as “Hedgehog Champions” and its site is dedicated to hedgehog education, explaining things like the urgency of linking gardens, because "ensuring hedgehogs can pass freely through your garden is the most important thing you can do to help them.”
Hester writes that in addition to the handmade holes and tunnels that Birkenwald is making, Hedgehog Street is encouraging fencing companies and developers to manufacture and install dividers with predrilled holes. Though Emily Wilson of Hedgehog Street says that some people have concerns like dogs slipping through the holes, getting people on board to help hedgehogs isn’t that tough. “Everyone seems to love hedgehogs,” she says. “It’s a really, really easy ask.”
While I can't see the ask being so easy for, say, New York City's rat population, it's wonderful to see people coming together for urban wildlife by way of hedgehogs. Saving Britain's favorite mammal, one tiny doorway at a time. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle would be proud.
Via Atlas Obscura