A Barnes man is to be recognised with a special award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at the House of Lords, honouring his work to protect his local hedgehog population.

Michel Birkenwald, 62, first became interested in hedgehog conservation four years ago after he found one in his garden. After reading up on the mammals he was shocked to discover that their UK population had dipped to less than one million today due to an array of human-made threats, particularly habitat loss and increased urbanisation. With the philosophy of doing “one small thing to make a difference”, he set about making a positive change for the gardener’s friend.

Realising that a big challenge for hedgehogs in urban areas is the problem of navigating past walls and buildings to new areas to forage, he decided to help the hedgehogs by creating a ‘hedgehog highway’, encouraging residents to allow him to drill a hedgehog-sized hole in their garden walls.

As a lot of walls in the area are Victorian and made of thick brick and mortar, this was no easy task and after consulting a local electrician, Michel began using a large drill he refers to as ‘The Beast’. Each hole takes around one hour to complete and is commemorated with the erection of a small plaque with an email address that can be used to seek further advice on the animals. Michel doesn’t charge for the work, which he has to fit around his full-time work as a jeweller, but just encourages as many residents as possible to agree to having a hole drilled in their wall and contribute to the hedgehog highway.

Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Michel’s pioneering efforts to support hedgehog conservation are admirable. We hope that his efforts will inspire the next generation of animal welfare campaigners and carers. He is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Local Conservation Award.”

Michel said: “It was actually my dog that alerted me to the hedgehog in my garden and it was the first live hedgehog I had ever come across. I was immediately fascinated by these creatures and when I started reading up on them I was shocked how much of the population had been lost.

“I realised the difficulties they faced in travelling in urban areas and just wanted to do something about it, just small little steps and I feel if one hedgehog survives or has a better life because of this it is all worthwhile. I am honoured to receive the IFAW award and it will help my cause.”

While some residents are initially reluctant to have a hole drilled in their walls, Michel finds on the whole his idea meets with a positive reception and so far he has drilled around 100 hedgehog holes around Barnes. He is beginning to accept requests from the wider area and hopes that in time local authorities will take hedgehog highways into account in their planning process. To enquire about joining the hedgehog highway contact Michel at mbirkenwald@hotmail.co.uk

The British hedgehog faces many other threats as well as habitat loss and fragmentation. These include road accidents, poisoning by pesticides, litter, and being caught in bonfires while hibernating.

Michel will receive his award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event, hosted by Baroness Gale and presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on October 16.