Conservationists Use AI and Photography to Help Hedgehogs

A hedgehog against a green background.

The National Hedgehog Monitoring Programme of the United Kingdom has a new tool to monitor the declining hedgehog population: artificial intelligence.

Images taken from trail cameras in urban parks, private gardens, woodlands, and farmland will first get sorted by AI, hopefully removing blank images or those capturing people. Human volunteers will then go through the animal images for further identification, according to Durham University, a partner on the project. It’s a first for tracking hedgehog populations, but one conservation group in the U.K. holds high hopes for it.

“Sadly, our much-loved hedgehogs are threatened, having undergone considerable population declines in recent decades. To reverse this trend, we need to remove the threats they face and put in place practical conservation measures. But before we can do this effectively we need to understand where and why hedgehogs are struggling,” a release from The British Hedgehog Preservation Society explains.

The hedgehog population in the U.K. has declined between 30 and 75 percent since 2000, the University noted in its release, explaining the need for this new AI-backed effort.

“Volunteer partner organizations are coordinating surveys in their local area, in parks, gardens and more rural areas, forming regional hubs to recruit volunteers who will put out cameras, and then collect them after 30 days,” The British Hedgehog Preservation Society release states. “The cameras will capture images of hedgehogs and other animals, which we will analyze to understand how we can better help hedgehogs.”

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society encouraged those who are interested and eligible to get involved as well through the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. The program is reportedly still looking for volunteers.

“It’s fantastic for our platform to be part of this important collaboration,” Russell Hill, professor at Durham University’s Department of Anthropology and Director at MammalWeb, says in a news release. “We’re looking forward to working with new ‘trappers’ and ‘spotters’ to generate the critical data needed to understand the status of hedgehogs in the UK and to develop strategies for their conservation.”

This is just the latest in increasing conservation projects using AI to help track, monitor, and help struggling species. Last year, PetaPixel highlighted the efforts of scientists using AI-powered camera traps to protect endangered animals.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.