A Cabinet minister weighed an injured hedgehog and watched another swimming as he announced measures to reduce animal road deaths.

On a visit to Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he has made it easier for local authorities to display signs alerting drivers about small mammals.

The signs – which feature a silhouette of a hedgehog – were launched in June 2019 to fill a gap between warnings over smaller creatures such as toads and larger animals like deer and livestock.

Councils wanting to use the small mammal signs have previously been required to obtain permission from the Government on a case by case basis.

But Mr Harper said he has taken action to “sweep that bureaucracy away” and make it “much easier for local authorities to use those signs”.

He told the PA news agency: “Councils can make decisions locally about where that sign will be helpful to protect mammals from motorists, or motorists from mammals.

“They don’t have to come to the department for authorisation. They can get on and do it using their local knowledge.”

The design of the hedgehog on the sign will be altered to make it more visible from a distance.

During a tour of the hospital, Mr Harper measured the weight of a hedgehog being prepared for release back into the wild, and viewed another doing a hydrotherapy session as part of its treatment for a leg injury.

A hedgehog in front of the small mammals road sign
A hedgehog in front of the small mammals road sign (Department for Transport/PA)

Asked if he is an animal lover, Mr Harper replied: “Yes, I am. I’m the proud owner of two rescue Labradors.

“Living in the Forest of Dean I see lots of wild animals out and about in the countryside when I’m taking the dogs for a walk.”

Hedgehog numbers in rural areas in Britain are estimated to have fallen by between 30% and 75% since the year 2000, with traffic blamed as a major factor for their decline.

Department for Transport figures show 128 people were killed – with a further 11,071 injured – in accidents in Britain where an animal or object in the road was a contributory factor in the 10 years to the end of 2022.

A hedgehog on autumn leaves (The Wildlife Trust/PA)
Traffic has been blamed as a major factor in the decline of hedgehog numbers in rural areas of Britain (The Wildlife Trust/PA)

In addition to hedgehogs, the small mammal signs are used to alert motorists about other animals including squirrels, badgers and otters.

The decision to increase their use is part of Government efforts to boost road safety on rural routes.

Three out of five crashes in which young male car drivers die or suffer a serious injury in Britain happen on those roads.