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Hedgehog Street People: Jen from Dunbar

24th March 2023

Hedgehog Champion Jen set up the ‘Dunbar Pledgehog Project’ and has been working to conserve local hedgehogs through habitat improvement, surveying and connecting people with the nature on their doorstep. We asked her all about the project and her plans for the future.

What motivated you to set up the Dunbar Pledgehog Project?

I wanted to do something in my local community to try to increase the number of hedgehogs or at least help them to survive here. By encouraging people to pledge to do something to make their garden or outdoor space more hedgehog friendly, I’m hoping that it will be good for their health and wellbeing as well as for hedgehog conservation in Dunbar. 

I love wildlife gardening and know how therapeutic it can be to have nature on your doorstep.

What have been the project’s achievements so far?

We have been able to lend out trail cameras and tracking tunnels to local residents to see if they have a hedgehog visiting their garden. Several people have seen hedgehogs for the first time and are now really excited about making their gardens more hedgehog friendly and are chatting to their neighbours about what they’re doing. Last year we also had regular hedgehog visits to the school nursery wildlife garden. The video footage was then shown to the children in the classroom who were captivated to see it and enjoyed doing hedgehog activities. In February for National Hedgehog Day we also recorded the children talking about hedgehogs for SubCity Radio and I did a live show with East Lothian’s Radio Saltire. 

Jen’s son with Mammal Tracking Tunnel (Copyright Gill Walker @Esoterica)

What have you learnt about the hedgehogs in Dunbar?

Over the last couple of years we have encouraged people via a Dunbar Hedgehog Facebook Group to plot their sightings on the BIG Hedgehog Map and have noticed an increase in sightings. It has given us an idea of where they are more often seen rather than scientific numbers, but this helps us to encourage improvements to areas where they have been seen. We have also noticed an interesting lack of sightings south of the railway line that cuts through the town which is also the newer part of Dunbar with more enclosed housing estates. A more structured plan is needed to find out more about this section of the town and what we can do to help hedgehogs better there.

Naomi Barnes (left) with Jen (right) with trail camera (Copyright Gill Walker @Esoterica)

What do you have planned for the project this year?

I want to meet as many local people as possible in person by having a stand at events or in local venues, by giving talks as well as visiting to give out cameras. I will be working in partnership with the local charity ‘Dunbar Shed’. They have a room filled with tools and expertise to build hedgehog houses and make kits to encourage people to go along and make their own too (with future ideas of making feeding stations as well). I hope to work with other organisations to encourage them to manage their land with hedgehogs in mind.

We have already had a wonderful meeting with the ‘Friends of Winterfield Park’ with loads of exciting plans to develop the area to be of benefit to hedgehogs and other wildlife. I should also be meeting with the events co-ordinator at a private nursing home to see if we can make some good hedgehog habitat in the surrounding gardens and hopefully get some footage of any sightings to show their residents.

I also plan to work with local garden centres to encourage them to stock good quality hedgehog products and provide better displays. Loads of other ideas too; litter picks, practical habitat work in woodlands, door drops of information materials, working with housing developers to include hedgehog highways, road signage and lots more.   

Jen and her daughter adding to a dead hedge in Belhaven Community Garden (copyright Gill Walker @Esoterica)

What advice would you give someone wanting to do something similar?

It’s pretty easy to start a Facebook Group for your local area to get people chatting about hedgehogs and getting them to plot their sightings on the BIG Hedgehog Map. It takes a little while to get people involved but with regular posts and videos of hedgehogs seen locally it grows over time. Of course there’s loads you can do in your local area by being a Hedgehog Champion with Hedgehog Street with all the resources being available to use.

If you want to try and get local funding my experience was that you usually need to be part of an official group (that meets certain criteria) or an official charity. Having the support of Naomi Barnes at ‘Sustaining Dunbar’ (SD) to take on this project was fantastic. SD is a registered charity which provided the organisational support and the ability to apply to other funding sources. Initially, we received funding for the trail cameras and tunnels from Dunbar Community Council’s ‘Community Development Fund’. Then we were successful in getting funding from the Dunbar and East Linton Area Partnership. We linked to their plan by aiming to improve mental health and reduce social isolation in our community by getting people more involved with nature and talking more to neighbours and others with a similar interest.

You could look into what other organisations are doing locally and see if anything could link with hedgehogs. Most importantly of all try to get people talking and it can have a snowball effect. Social media and the regular media are great for that.

I have very quickly become the ‘Hedgehog Lady’ and people are actually stopping me to talk about hedgehogs!