A REPORT has found that hedgehog numbers have plummeted in a “worrying decline.”

The UK study, released this week by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, says that Britain’s best-loved animal has plummeted by more than half its numbers since 2000.

Combining the findings of four wildlife surveys, the report says that hedgehogs are struggling against predators, a decrease in hedgerows and high numbers of them becoming roadkill on fast-traffic country roads.

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It also says that Britain’s gardens are becoming less ‘hedgehog-friendly’ with people favouring decking and pavements over plant life and greenery.

Local hedgehog rescuer Sandra Simpson, 71, is enjoying a “quiet retirement” taking care of sick and injured hedgehogs in Darlington.

With 28 currently in her care, Mrs Simpson has noticed a recent rise in the number of hedgehogs she takes in.

Following the report’s release, she says the best way to stop the decline is by cutting a small hole “no bigger than the size of a CD” at the bottom of your garden fence.

Mrs Simpson said: “A male hedgehog travels about 2km a night and visits 15 to 20 gardens. When people put up a solid fence it cuts off their circuit.”

Her advice for people who are concerned about a prickly visitor is to interfere only if the hedgehog looks small and sickly.

She added: “If you are going to feed hedgehogs, stay away from mealworms. Mealworms affect the calcium in their bones, a bit like the human version of rickets. The best thing to give them is kitten biscuits.”