Experts will use AI in ‘world first’ to estimate dwindling hedgehog population | Nature | News

Conservationists will use artificial intelligence to gather “robust” estimates of Britain’s dwindling hedgehog population for the first time.

The “world first” will lead to figures of the animals in different parts of the country and how these are changing each year.

Dr Henrietta Pringle, national hedgehog monitoring programme coordinator at People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “For the first time in the history of hedgehog conservation we’re using AI to open up new opportunities, which is extremely exciting.

“Previous studies have estimated hedgehog populations, but there has never been a rigorous nationwide survey of them – until now.”

“We know hedgehogs are struggling, especially in the countryside, but before we can put practical conservation measures in place we need to understand where they are and why they’re declining. 

“This is the first study where populations are measured year after year, in the same location, which will produce vital data and allow us to identify those at risk, which in time will hopefully help us to reverse the decline. 

“The results will also allow us to see regional and habitat differences, and identify what factors impact them in different places, which will not only be fascinating but also incredibly useful for their long-term conservation.”

The new technology will be used alongside volunteers and trail cameras at dozens of sites.

Campaigners hope the three-year pilot project will help conservationists to introduce practical measures to try to reverse hedgehogs’ decline.

Their numbers have fallen by up to 30% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas since the Millennium.

They are now listed as “vulnerable” on Britain’s red list of mammals.

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