Prickly business: the hedgehog highway that knits a village together

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With their miniature ramps, stairs and holes cut into fences and stone walls, the gardens of Kirtlington in Oxfordshire are a haven for wildlife

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. This was the first lesson from my village safari around Kirtlington in Oxfordshire, home to the UK’s longest volunteer-run hedgehog highway. “Leaving out bread and milk is the worst thing you can do,” says resident Chris Powles, who created the highway. It passes through 60 properties in the village, all linked by CD-sized holes cut into fences and walls, some of which have been around since the 18th century.

Hedgehogs need space to create territories, forage and find mates. The compartmentalisation of land into private gardens is one of the causes of their disappearance from our landscape – they have declined by 90% since the second world war. More than 12,000 hedgehog holes have been created as part of the UK’s hedgehog highway network, and Kirtlington has one of the most creative routes on the map. Miniature ramps and staircases thread between gardens in this higgledy-piggledy place, with its 13th-century church and notices about cake sales and “cricketers wanted”.

Entering Kirtlington; Chris Powles with his map of the hedgehog highway; and watching over the ‘church’ entrance. Photographs: Tom Pilston/the Guardian

A hedgehog caught on camera using the ramp at Peter Kyte and Zoe Johnson’s house. Photograph: Stephen Powles

Looking for signs of hedgehog traffic; Lucy Charlesworth, 10, inspects a tunnel; the hole in the gate of the Old Vicarage; a stick left against a hole to monitor movements in and out. Photographs: Stephen Powles/Tom Pilston/The Guardian

A hedghog opts to take the stairs. Photograph: Stephen Powles

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