THE patter of tiny creatures' feet could cause a spike in visitor numbers at Blenheim Palace.

Last year the 12th Duke of Marlborough became a patron of Andrew’s Hedgehog Hospital charity and released 14 prickly mammals into the grounds of the Woodstock World Heritage Site.

This year the Duke, 61, has released a further 22 hedgehogs into the 2,000 acres of parkland on the estate.

He has formed a close relationship with the Lincolnshire charity and hopes his estate can become a 'paradise' for hedgehogs.

The Duke, formerly the Marquess of Blandford, is married to Edla Spencer-Churchill and took over the running of the Blenheim estate following the death of his father at the aged of 88 in 2014.

He said he was delighted to offer the hedgehogs a safer home as they had been 'finding life hard'.

The Duke added: "There aren't too many hedgehogs, they're small, and the only predator they have is badgers – I don't think we have too many badgers here."

He first became involved with the charity after meeting founder Frank Tett at the Blenheim Palace flower show in 2015.

Mr Tett, 78, and wife Veronica are the charity founders and care for 150 hedgehogs at their home in Appleby, Lincolnshire.

Earlier this year they released 52 of the creatures in the village of Burton Fleming, East Yorkshire.

The Tetts are hoping to link up with more stately homes following the agreement with the Duke of Marlborough.

The hedgehogs have been released into a secluded area in ancient woodland next to the lake at the palace as it is thought to be a good habitat for them to thrive in.

Lincolnshire-based Andrew’s Hedgehog Hospital charity rescues and releases back in to the wild more than 150 healthy hedgehogs every year.

Volunteers also work to raise awareness of the increasing threats faced by the UK’s dwindling hedgehog populations and what people can do to help them.

According to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society the nation's hedgehog population has plummeted by more than 30 per cent since 2000 to fewer than one million.

The large amounts of foliage and trees in the palace grounds make it an ideal habitat for the creatures now living alongside swans, geese, pheasants, partridge, deer, ducks and sheep.

The Duke said: "The estate is a fantastic haven for a large variety of wildlife and I am confident that the hedgehogs will thrive in their new home.

"Save the hedgehog foundations are particularly close to my family's heart and I urge other estates to take on the same mantle."

The Blenheim Palace Estate extends to over 12,000 acres, with the palace set in more than 2,000 acres of parkland landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown.