Hartpury’s resident hedgehog expert Dr Lucy Bearman-Brown shared her specialist knowledge with millions of TV viewers last night in a special feature for the BBC’s popular magazine programme The One Show.
Lucy, Senior Lecturer in Animal Science at Hartpury University, was filmed on campus demonstrating how she is helping to train a ‘detection dog’ called Henry – a rescue springer spaniel – to sniff out hedgehogs safely for conservation purposes.
Lucy explained to The One Show’s Matt Allwright: “One of the biggest causes of hedgehog decline is habitat fragmentation. As housing estates are built, roads are built, the landscape is broken up into increasingly small chunks.
“That can make it harder for hedgehogs to find each other for mating, they might struggle to find enough food, and they might struggle to find nesting sites as well.”
Lucy has teamed up with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to work with Henry, one of a group of conservation dogs from Conservation K9 Consultancy, and his trainer Louise Wilson.
Lucy told The One Show that thanks to specialist dogs dogs like Henry, whose sense of smell is 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, hedgehogs can be found and protected in this habitat, or if no alternative moved safely to a new home before their habitat is cleared for development.
Without highly trained dogs like Henry, she explained, finding hedgehogs that could be in danger would be an extremely demanding task both during the day and at night.
“They’re generally not active during the day and so therefore without some really intensive searching, they can be really difficult to find,” she said. This leaves them susceptible to injury or death when land is cleared. Henry can help find these animals so opportunities for protecting them and their habitat can then be explored.
Henry’s extraordinary sense of smell was highlighted when he was able to find some hedgehog spines hidden in undergrowth at Hartpury, demonstrating why he was ideal to help Lucy undertake her conservation research.
Henry indicates that he has found a hedgehog by quietly sitting nearby and looking at his trainer Louise, who then makes Lucy aware that he has found one. This teamwork is key to managing the welfare of both the hedgehog and the dog at all times.
Speaking after the programme, Lucy said: “As the feature on The One Show demonstrated, Henry can find hedgehogs, without stressing or hurting them, that I couldn’t locate using traditional methods. Therefore, he can help us undertake more reliable counts of hedgehogs, whilst also providing a way of protecting hedgehogs in the wild.
“The plan is that once this concept is proven, more dogs can be trained to help find hidden hedgehogs, so we can better understand how they use the landscape, and work towards protecting the most important areas.
“I would like to thank the PTES and BHPS for funding the project and Conservation K9 Consultancy and Louise for letting me work so closely with Henry.”
Picture: Dr Lucy Bearman-Brown at Hartpury during filming for The One Show