The disrespect given by the news to matters ecological was made even clearer to me just now. I had a call in from BBC Radio 4 World at One – they wanted me to present a one minute guide to why Hedgehog Awareness Week was important and give examples of what we could do. They stressed that they wanted it to be humorous.

Sounds like my kind of challenge, so I said yes and pointed out that if I could manage to get John Humphreys laughing on the Today programme (yesterday) I am sure I could give them what I wanted.

Oh dear … the producer had to go away and talk to her editor because they can’t use someone who has been on the Today programme so recently.

She called back – and it was all off … despite the fact that I talked yesterday about the impact that HS2 was going to have on the hedgehogs of Regent’s Park … not about how and why we should make our garden’s hedgehog friendly.

Now imagine this was a story about economics – about banks and money? Or even about politics? I listen to Radio 4 a great deal and the same voices come on repeatedly talking about these topics. What is so different about hedgehogs?

Some years back I tried pitching something about hedgehogs to Radio 4 – ‘we’ve already done something about hedgehogs this year’ was the response.

And this does not have to be hedgehogs – but all issues ecological seem to be considered ‘light’ – not serious news. Only when there is a real economic impact – flooding and just possibly climate change now – is there scant attention paid.

I have said it before and am happy to repeat myself. We need to treat ecology with the same seriousness as we do the economy. Just because the politicians are so myopic as to not be able to see more than a term of office into the future it should not be the case that we ignore the long term. And by looking long term it is clear that only an utter moron would ignore the ecosystem on which life on earth relies.

The news is able to help set this agenda, if it were a little braver. They would treat wildlife and our shared ecology with respect and allow the news of the disastrous impacts our actions have to be given airtime. Instead these subjects continue to be disregarded as real news. Maybe I need to set up my own media channel – WildNews perhaps – that will give proper attention to the fragile system in which we live. Never mind markets up or down – how about a species count – new ones found, others we have driven to extinction. Or carbon dioxide ppm in the atmosphere? These are the metrics by which we will live and die.

I knew it would be a busy time, running up to The Day of the Hedgehog. But I had not counted on the extra impetus the hedgehog would receive from a bumbling MP speaking in the House of Commons in an adjournment debate on 10th November.

The day before I had been busy briefing the Defra Minister, Rory Stewart, in anticipation of Oliver Colvile’s statement. Stewart was sharp-whitted and keen to learn. I explained how the hedgehog was threatened in two different populations – rural and urban. How rural hedgehogs were suffering from a lack of food and shelter – and urban from a fragmented and diminished habitat. Yes, badgers are part of the problem, but it is wrong-headed to ‘blame’ them as many in his party are keen to do.

The debate began with bumbling … and some rather feeble attempts at humour. But at least it got the hedgehog being discussed in parliament for the first time since 1566. Here is the transcript from Hansard (scroll down to the end) – and here is a link to the video of the event. Perhaps most significant to me was the fact that I have now been mentioned in parliament, recorded in Hansard – and referred to as ‘eccentric’! Who would have thought?

This debate sparked off a mini-media-tornado and I got strapped into a studio in BBC Oxford the next day as part of the ‘General News Service’ – a system whereby all the local radio stations around the country can book an interview with one person – by the end of the day I had done 13 interviews … the last one from the offices of my son’s choir … and on being overheard it was said I sounded like I was on ‘Just a Minute’ …. I knew I had little time, I knew that if they asked a question it would just waste what time there was … so I just spoke. All the time promoting the up and coming event of the year – The Day of the Hedgehog!

Just to add to the excitement, the day before the Day – the Friday I was heading up to Telford – I got a call to be on BBC Politics – BBC2 – first time in ages I have done the solo TV studio – and so disconcerting, knowing that the people who are talking to you can see you, but you cannot see them …

And no, this is not a studio on top of South Park (for those familiar with Oxford, the backdrop must always generate a little concern …) The interview went okay, I think – though Zoe Williams, from the Guardian, was on as a pundit and proved herself to be embarrassingly thick … Here is a link to my moment of fame (52 minutes is where it starts to get interesting)!

The Day of the Hedgehog started, for me, with the publication of something a little different – a feature not by me, but about me, in the Daily Telegraph – I had had a wonderful time with the journalist Martin Fletcher back in August, going to a WI meeting, linking up with researcher Lucy Clarke and spending time at Vale Wildlife Rescue.

And the actual meeting? Over 300 people had a brilliantly managed day (I was not part of that side of things – much respect to those at the PTES and BHPS who did so much work beforehand to make it work so well) – and I got to jump up onto the stage and thank the speakers before welcoming on the next ones. All of whom kept to time (something I really appreciate) – all of whom were fascinating, articulate and entertaining. We could not have had a better gathering of people. And around this, I managed to sell over 60 books! So all in all, well worth the time and effort I think – would be great to hear from you if you were there and either agree with me, or have concerns … and if you were not there … would you like us to organise another ‘Day’?

 

‘The Great Myth of Urban Britain’ was the headline from BBC Home editor Mark Easton’s piece published on 28th June. In the article he argued that conservationists are too pessimistic, and that if you look carefully at the real data, things are not that bad, really.

He starts with a question that will probably flummox most urban-dwellers – what percentage of England is covered in concrete and tarmac? Go on, have a guess ….

You were probably wrong … using as his source the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011), he points out that just over 2% of the country is built on … and goes on to say, “According to the most detailed analysis ever conducted, almost 98% of England is, in their word, natural.”

At the very least this strikes as counter-intuitive – but then looking at the figures he gives, well, it becomes strangely convincing. Does this mean we have cause for celebration? Have the doom-mongers from the conservation groups been winding us up with their intimations of impending disaster?

In a word, no.

I could spend hours deconstructing each and every component of the argument that has allowed Easton to his dramatically, and I would say dangerous, conclusion. But I will use a different ploy … it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have, over the years, learned to shift my perspective a little – as I say in The Beauty in the Beast (quoting someone I can’t remember right now, but if you can, let me know) – ‘never underestimate the revolutionary potential of seeing things from a different perspective’. Shift your point of view to that of a hedgehog, for example, and the deliriously upbeat tone of Easton’s article begins to seem less like a scientific analysis and more like a hack writing what he wants to see on the page.

There are two major errors that have resulted in his excitement … and I admit I have not read every word in report from which he takes his lead, so it is possible that he is reporting and amplifying an error already in place.

First, ‘natural’? Throughout the 87 pages of the summary document there are as many references to ‘semi-natural’ as there are to ‘natural’. I think he might be conflating a little. More importantly, what is natural? Are we looking for areas that are untouched? I think we would be lucky to find 2% unmodified by human action. What degree of intrusion is acceptable for the ‘natural’ tag to remain? In Easton’s argument, the yellow deserts of oil seed rape and the alien fir-tree plantations are bracketed with the last pockets of primeval forest.

And the second mistake is to ignore hedgehogs. The years I have spent worrying over the state of Britain’s hedgehogs has allowed me to see clearly that while habitat loss is definitely a problem, it is only one part of the problem. Most critical is the way that the habitat is fragmented. At its most simple this is a very human-scale problem.

Imagine your garden is the most wonderful wildlife friendly garden. Birds flock to the feeders, dragonflies emerge from your pond (that comes complete with ramps to allow hedgehogs to escape), your compost heap houses bumblebees even more effectively than the bee-hotels you have erected. And in the evening you delight in the bats as they flit in your carefully darkened garden. But you still have no hedgehogs or toads and are getting frustrated at their obvious lack of taste … and then you look at your garden, at the concrete footings that you put in to hold the new fence and it dawns on you – they cannot get in! So, taking a lead from the wonderful Hedgehog Street, you set to work opening up your garden, and talking to your neighbours and then their neighbours and then the street is suddenly a wonderful space for hedgehogs and toads and all the other non-flying wildlife.

But the problem for hedgehogs, and so much of our biodiversity, is far bigger than the gardens that have become so many species sanctuary. We have fragmented the landscape on a massive scale, creating ever smaller pockets of habitats. The fragmentation is caused, most obviously, by roads; their presence and the volume of traffic, (and it is not just hedgehogs that suffer, small birds and butterflies are so buffeted as to be prevented from crossing the arterial routes). And the fields of oil seed rape, which Easton is happy to embrace as natural, can act as just such an effective barrier to movement. As do the fields now denuded of their hedges. Or the hillsides covered in a heavy fir coat.

So why is Easton’s piece so damaging? Because people will want to believe it. And the report from which it was taken has as its main aim an attempt to truly place a value on what we have so that it will be better treated – but when couched in such simplistic terms the authorities will simply grasp with glee the opportunity to argue that ‘increased development cannot be a bad thing, because, look we have so much natural land to spare. And it is only a few ecological eccentrics who are trying to obstruct us from building our way to a brighter future …’

In reality, there is no ‘natural’. But there are areas of wonderful wildlife value that needs our continued protection and this article must not be allowed to sway those who hold the reins of the developers. There is a fight coming, I feel it, between those demanding growth and those resisting growth.

One day, perhaps, economists will be taught the simplest lessons of ecology. After all, as Satish Kumar pointed out in a lecture I heard, they spring from the same word, ecos, or oikos, meaning home. They refer to the management and the study of our home, the planet. But management by economists must not be allowed to take place without the understanding of ecologists. To allow this to happen results in the sort of madness that this article presents.

My first, and last, real job was with Natural History Radio in Bristol, part of the elite BBC unit that produces the ultimate in blue-chip wildlife films. It was a fascinating insight into that amazing world, it turned me on to radio and also made me realise that I am not really cut out for a real job (and have been freelance ever since).

So it was really exciting to be back in the studio this morning to do a live insert into the new 40 week series, Saving Species. What a turn around – for the first time ever, a programme of this scale has been commissioned with the express focus of looking at conservation. And I got my chance on the second episode – which, just in case you missed it (!) is available to listen again here …. It can also be downloaded here …. My bit crops up about 7.30 minutes into the programme if you are impatient.

I just loved the look on presenter Bret Westwood’s face as I advocated people taking sledgehammers to fences, decking and patios in the quest for a hedgehog-friendly garden!

I would love feedback – I really enjoyed doing the show and hope to do more. I also recorded a longer interview that will be placed on an Open University website soon – that I will share as soon as I can.