Scientists have created crash test dummy hedgehogs to help protect them from lawnmowers.
Researchers have developed the 3D-printed models to assess whether robotic grass cutters are a danger to the mammals.
Oxford University researchers devised a test to assess the effects of different autonomous mowers on the loveable creatures.
It is hoped manufacturers will use this new system to make sure their products are “hedgehog safe” before they go on sale.
The research comes with the news the species is in serious decline – with reasons including habitat loss, road traffic accidents, intensive agriculture, and injuries from dog bites and garden strimmers.
The 3D-printed models the researchers have used are made of a soft rubbery plastic that resembles the body composition of a hedgehog.
Lead researcher Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen – known on social media as Dr Hedgehog – said there was an “urgent need to identify and phase out” lawnmowers that posed a threat to the vulnerable species.
She said all the mowers she tested had to physically touch the hedgehog in order to detect it, and some did not detect it at all and ran over it with the blades still running.
The researchers also worked alongside a rehabilitation centre in Denmark to establish how live hedgehogs reacted to a bladeless robotic mower.
Each hedgehog was tested twice and tended to act more shyly on their second encounter, suggesting they may eventually learn to avoid the machines.
Dr. Rasmussen said: “Each hedgehog was tested twice and, interestingly, they tended to act more shyly on their second encounter.
“This is hugely important, since it suggests that hedgehogs may learn from their first encounter with a robotic lawnmower.
“Potentially, if a hedgehog survives its first encounter with a robotic lawnmower, it is less likely to be injured in the future because this may cause it to avoid them.
“So, the more hedgehog friendly mowers out there, the more chance there is that the first mower a hedgehog meets is a hedgehog friendly one.
“If these hedgehogs meet a mower again later in their lives, they will then likely be more cautious.”
Dr. Rasmussen added: “Our new standardised safety test will greatly aid hedgehog conservation, by enabling manufacturers of robotic lawnmowers to ensure their models are hedgehog-friendly before they are put on the market.”
Co-author of the study Dr. Anne Berger, of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, said: “Cut injuries from robotic lawnmowers are placing an enormous burden on many hedgehog care centers. …[these] models could help prevent a considerable amount of animal suffering.”
The research was funded by Husqvarna, STIHL, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the Carlsberg Foundation.
Fay Vass, chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said: “Hopefully, the results of this work will stop or drastically reduce the risk of robotic lawnmowers causing harm to hedgehogs.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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