A LOCAL hedgehog hero is celebrating a milestone success in his campaign to protect the endangered species.

Oxford-based ecologist and author Hugh Warwick marked the first milestone of his crusade to get housing companies to incorporate 'hedgehog highways' – small 13cm square holes – in new home builds.

In an online petition that has reached 625,229 signatures Mr Warwick, also known as Hedgehog Hugh, explained the changes will allow hedgehogs to move freely.

Following talks with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), one of the UK's biggest housebuilders – Bovis Homes – has announced it will install hedgehog highways to its existing developments and all future sites wherever possible.

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The industry-first move will also help other small mammals, birds, frogs and insects.

The company will create the holes at the bottom of fences and other barriers, which are designed to allow access between selected gardens and wilder areas, and marked with a plaque.

Bovis has also pledged to build hedgehog homes in green spaces and has also donated £5,000 to BHPS, which aims to protect the UK native species.

Regional marketing manager for the company Louise Macrae said: “We are proud to be the first housebuilder aiming to roll-out hedgehog highways as standard across current locations".

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While the housebuilder did not credit Mr Warwick's campaigning, a spokesperson for Bovis Homes admitted the company is working with the ecologist and the BHPS.

The company’s announcement comes amid mounting concern for the dwindling hedgehog population.

BHPS' research reveals that numbers of hedgehogs have plummeted by half in rural areas and 30 per cent in urban areas since 2000.

The long-term decline is blamed on modern farming methods and the common use of pesticides that has reduced the number of insects and slugs that hedgehogs depend on for food.

However, Mr Warwick argued that the key cause of the species dying out is that the country's landscapes are being fenced off into small fragments.

When he launched the petition in 2018, the ecologist called on the Ministry of Housing to force housebuilders to include 'hedgehog highways' in their developments.

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Mr Warwick said: "Now that one developer has made the leap there is no good reason for other developers to not follow."

On the Change.org website he urged campaign supporters to continue contacting other developers, their MPs and local councillors to push for further improvements.

Fay Vass, chief executive of BHPS, congratulated Bovis Homes for making the important pledge to help the dwindling population of hedgehogs.

He added: "Creating holes for hedgehogs in fences and walls is a simple step but it could have a huge impact on the amount of habitat available for hedgehogs following the development of a site.

“There are many small actions we can all take to help hedgehogs in our gardens and green spaces, and joined together those small actions can make a huge difference to a species under threat.”