Gina Beresford, nature conservation officer, is Glendale’s very own hedgehog champion. Gina manages Glendale’s nature conservation project, Nature’s Gym, on behalf of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.
In a quick interview for Glendale News, she explains why she became a champion for hedgehogs and how you can help protect this iconic British animal.
Gina, first of all, can you tell us what being a hedgehog champion means?
Being a hedgehog champion just means having an awareness of husbandry, which is an understanding of nature and how land and wildlife should be cared for, in the same way, we would want to be cared for.
The hedgehog is a good symbol of this and continues to help provide us with a better environmental awareness.
Why did you become a hedgehog champion?
I started to become interested in hedgehogs when I first read a book called “Erin, The Last Hedgehog” by R. Becket, which I recommend.
My interest grew further when I got an allotment. I saw many people using slug pellets and chemicals on their vegetables, which are harmful to hedgehogs and people, and I wanted to steer away from this and focus on using natural methods like companion planting and beer traps. Residents and allotment users where I work said they had not seen any hedgehogs for years.
Our infrastructure designs and overpopulation dilemmas are other key factors that jeopardise our hedgerows, gardens and green spaces. Knowing the bigger picture made me want to do something useful for the hedgehog and our green spaces.
What kind of activities do you carry out as a local hedgehog champion?
Since becoming a hedgehog champion I have run hedgehog workshops for schools where pupils help coppice material to build hedgehog piles. I now work with the local authority and charities such as the Environment Trust and South West London Environment Agency. Our aim is to create a Hedgehog Species Action Plan for the borough and provide environmental education to schools, residents and allotment users on the subject of hedgehogs and wildlife friendly gardening. I will also be running a hedgehog group called ‘The Erinations’ in order to help collect data on local sightings.
How does being a hedgehog champion fit into your role with Glendale?
As a conservation officer and hedgehog champion for Glendale, my responsibility is to educate as many people as possible about the importance of husbandry and how we can best look after our wildlife.
The best method is often just to leave it be and to provide enough green and wild areas for wildlife to be left undisturbed.
Glendale is a big supporter of conservation activities like this.
And how does it influence your work with Nature’s Gym?
My work with Nature’s Gym involves sensitive land management tasks with volunteers and local schools. I always provide a reason as to why a task is being undertaken and how it benefits the nature reserve, as well as people’s health and wellbeing. Hedgehogs are the main example that I use to give people inspiration to become more wildlife friendly.
We can all play our part in becoming a little bit more wildlife friendly, what practical things can our readers do to help hedgehogs in their local area?
To help our hedgehogs we need to plant hedgerows, steer clear of chemical pest controls, garden with nature in mind and make fresh compost piles each year for hedgehogs to hibernate under. Bonfires are worth checking under before lighting too!
Milk and bread also make hedgehogs sick. They are carnivorous and like to eat slugs, snails and insects. If we constantly get rid of the slugs and snails from our gardens, hedgehogs will have nothing to eat.
Why is this so important?
Hedgehogs, for many, are only a childhood memory now as their numbers are so few. This is due to new developments, concrete driveways, hedgerow decline and roads with no wildlife tunnels or bridges.
We also do a lot of damage to the whole food chain by using chemicals and slug pellets. This means that their main source of food is contaminated. Even organic chemicals and pellets are worth avoiding as they will still contain harmful ingredients.
A lot of our countryside is so intensively farmed, hedgerows are removed and chemical pesticides and fertilisers are used, so hedgehogs cannot make their home in those places anymore.
Finally, do you have any advice for someone who wants to get more involved in supporting their local wildlife and green spaces?
There are so many groups, organisations and charities that do important conservation work. The Wildlife Trust, Plantlife and Nature Conservancy are well known for their conservation and volunteer work. You can volunteer to help with surveys and practical work on most local green spaces.
My advice for younger, wildlife-loving generations, who like reading, writing and researching, and want to make a big impact, would be to work with local newspapers and architecture firms to encourage them to become wildlife sensitive building developers that design with wildlife in mind.
Green roofing, urban green elevated walkways, green bridges and tunnels are our best options for providing safe highways for wildlife.
For me, environmental education is key to being able to inspire future generations towards these green goals and is one of the most important industries. It is our future generations that will be looking after our green spaces, so by supporting environmental education you are also securing a greener future.
If you would like to read “Erin, The Last Hedgehog” as recommended by Gina, a copy can be purchased from the following link: https://www.feedaread.com/books/ERIN-9781785103773.aspx.