A new three-year initiative - the National Hedgehog Monitoring Programme (NHMP) - has been launched in a pioneering effort to estimate population levels of hedgehogs across the UK.

One of the 13 pilot survey sites was on the Isle of Wight, in a woodland just outside Newport.

Utilising an unique blend of artificial intelligence, home-based volunteers and trail cameras, the NHMP seeks to provide invaluable insights into hedgehog populations in various habitats including urban parks, private gardens, woodlands and farmland.

Led by The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and in partnership with Nottingham Trent University and others, the NHMP aims to understand why hedgehog numbers are dwindling and how to combat the decline.

The use of AI in hedgehog preservation is largely funded by Natural England. The simple process involves volunteers, also known as 'spotters', identifying the species captured on trail cameras setup in 13 various sites across the country, from Dorset to Glasgow.

These images are then analysed by a team to provide important population data. Interested individuals can sign up to volunteer on the NHMP’s website.

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.

"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 NHMP team and a group of volunteers have begun examining images from the initial 13 sites surveyed in 2023, with hedgehogs already spotted in six locations.

Expectations for the pilot run of the NHMP aim for surveillance of 40 sites across Britain by the end of the trial.