Are robotic lawnmowers injuring and killing hedgehogs?

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European hedgehog

In the UK, there are fears that robo-mowers are injuring and killing hedgehogs. Experts believe that certain types of robotic lawnmowers might be causing injuries especially to smaller, juvenile hedgehogs who they believe are more at risk. However, these lawnmowers do have sensors to detect hedgehogs and I presume avoid them.

European hedgehog

European hedgehog. Photo in public domain.

In order to test the theory, dead hedgehogs (hedgehogs which have died of natural causes) are to be placed in front of robotic lawnmowers by researchers at Oxford University. They want to see whether the machines might be responsible for the growing number of reported injuries to the precious hedgehog population.

Sanctuaries for hedgehogs have recorded a rising number of complaints from the public who argue that robotic lawnmowers are harming the animals. The study is being conducted by Sophie Lund Rasmussen of Aalborg University in Denmark, researchers at Oxford University, and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Previously Dr Rasmussen examined 697 dead hedgehogs recovered by volunteers in Denmark and none appeared to have been killed by lawnmowers.

To laypeople i.e. non-experts, hedgehogs are considered to be endangered but the IUCN Read List, who should know better, classify the species under “Least Concern”. They say that the population is stable.

However, in the UK, the hedgehog population is in severe decline (ptes.org). This has been linked to a range of factors including an intensification of agriculture using modern farming techniques which is causing the destruction of hedgerows. An increase in badger numbers is another factor. Badgers are able to unroll and kill hedgehogs. Badger numbers have increased by more than 85% since the mid-1980s. There’s been an increase in road traffic accidents killing hedgehogs. This is one of the most common forms of death of hedgehogs. Roads are a barrier to the movement of hedgehogs and they fragment their habitat and isolate populations.

Climate change has also had an effect by reducing the ability of the hedgehog to build up fat reserves prior to hibernation. The weather change appears to have forced them to come out of hibernation too early when there is little or no food. Flooding can also cause a risk to hedgehogs. There have been some big floods in the UK arguably due to climate change.