These tiny creatures are faced with daily threats such as chemical poisoning, busy roads and bonfires, but now a new campaign is being backed in Norfolk to preserve the declining numbers of one of the nation’s favourite mammals.

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Top ‘hog facts

- Hedgehogs travel one mile every night.

- Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.

- Hedgehogs are very docile creatures.

- Hedgehogs are Britain’s only spiny mammal.

- Hedgehogs eat small invertebrates, occasionally eggs of ground nesting birds and a resistance to adder venom means that they will also eat snakes.

- Their spines offer protection from predators.

- Hedgehogs have up to two litters a year, of about four to five young.

- Hedgehogs eyesight is poor, but their sense of smell and hearing is very good.

- Hedgehogs cover their spines in foamy saliva but the reason why they do this remains a mystery. It has been suggested it might be a sexual attractant, to reduce parasites, or as additional protection.

- The name for a baby hedgehog is a hoglet.

Launched yesterday by former MP Ann Widdecombe, the Wildlife Aid Foundation announced a new campaign - “Save Harry” - calling for a Hedgehog Protection Act to prevent the well-loved garden visitor sliding towards extinction.

The wildlife charity is proposing a new law which would make wilful killing of hedgehogs illegal and a mandatory code of practice to help conserve the species.

According to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust the total population of hedgehogs in Norfolk is unknown but it is accepted that numbers are declining.

The Trust added that the main reasons for the decline are fragmentation of habitat, such as larger fields with fewer hedges, increased road building, decreased food due to pesticides, property development and increased numbers of paved gardens.

Sandra Craske, hedgehog carer at the A For Animals Hedgehog Rescue Centre at Erpingham, said: “We’ve lost 60pc of our hedgehogs down to chemical damage. It is really, really sad and it has a knock-on affect on other wildlife.

“I do see it as a major problem.”

Mrs Craske has been working at the centre for 22 years and said although the much-needed protection act would be a good idea, all walks of life needed to support it.

“It’s so easy to buy chemicals and I think that’s the main reason for their decline,” she said.

“We are saving less and less and less.

“Unless we change our use of chemicals, I really do not think it will improve.”

The two types of hedgehogs - rural and urban - are currently classed as a priority for conservation and are one of more than a thousand species covered by wildlife initiatives.

An RSPCA spokesman said: “There has been strong anecdotal evidence over recent years that hedgehogs are in decline for various reasons. Although the science has yet to be proven conclusively.

“Every year, there are more cases of this animal than most other species brought into our four wildlife rehabilitation centres. In 2010, there were 1,697 hedgehog admissions overall – the second highest species after ducks. In 2009 there were 1,671, more animals than any other species that year.”

Wildlife Aid Foundation’s founder and director Simon Cowell said a protection law and mandatory code of practice would force government agencies including Network Rail and the Highways Agency to treat the hedgehog’s plight as critical.

He said: “Sadly these wonderful little creatures are no longer a common sight in Britain’s countryside.

“Unless we act now they could soon disappear altogether.”

● Erpingham Rescue Centre will be holding an open day on July 21. Visitors will get the chance to see inside the hedgehog hospital and view a selection of stalls. Entrance is free. For more information please visit hedgehogrescueonline.org.uk or ring Mrs Craske on 01263 761577.

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