My friends know me well – and it was not long after the new John Lewis Christmas advert was launched this week that they were telling me on social media about one of the ‘stars’ – a bouncing hedgehog.

If you have not seen it yet, the advert stars an enchanting boxer dog called Buster which can’t wait to bounce on the trampoline his six-year-old owner Bridget receives for Christmas.

The dog is seen watching from a sitting room window on the night before Christmas as all sorts of wild garden animals frolic on the trampoline, which is wrapped in a red bow in the garden, as Bridget sleeps upstairs. There are a couple of foxes, a badger, a squirrel … and a hedgehog, all jumping away as Buster looks on, missing the fun.

johnlewis3

Now, I know something about hedgehogs. I started studying them over 30 years ago, have written two books about them and am a vigorous advocate for this most wonderful of all Britain’s creatures. So I pay great attention when they appear in something so grand as a John Lewis Christmas advert – which has become as much a fixture in the calendar as an EastEnders Christmas fight.

And what is not to love about it? Doting parents, dotty Buster and amazing computer-generated imagery of wildlife having a party. The story is perfect – the energy and glee of the child is brilliantly captured, though I do have to question the ease with which she settled down to bed on Christmas Eve. 

Criticising the John Lewis advert is like admitting to having a hobby of sticking pins in puppy’s eyes – and I completely accept that doing so may result in my social death. But … it’s the wrong sort of hedgehog!

flying hedgehog john lewis

The hedgehog that features is one of the African hedgehogs that have been bred as pets mainly in America and they are very different in form to our wild European hedgehogs. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are, as their name suggests, smaller than our European ones. They can come in a multitude of patterns with the spines being pale, white, brown or even piebald. Our ones are always a greyish brown and utterly unsuitable as pets.

It is not the first time I have spotted this mistake. There was that Ribena advert last year. Great music, robins and rabbits and geese all featured and the company made great play of sourcing their blackcurrants from a bucolic Britain. But the hedgehogs they used in the advert? Again, pet hedgehogs and the wrong species.

Ribena hedgehog

Sega, the company behind Sonic the Hedgehog video games have fallen foul of this as well. In 2010, they backed an advert drawing attention to the declining wild hedgehog population, which featured a hedgehog crossing a blue and white zebra crossing, complete with lollipop lady – and three of the four stunt hedgehogs they used were of the wrong sort.

Sonic the Hedgehog lollipop lady

Does this matter? Or am I just being a hedgehog nerd?

Well I would argue it does matter. These ‘cute’ hedgehogs kept as pets are often abandoned. Owners can’t cope with their nocturnal activities – hedgehogs go to the loo on the move and when running on a wheel often get covered in their own faeces so have to be cleaned every morning. They are covered in prickles and, unless really well reared, potentially quite bitey. Which all means they can end up in hedgehog rescue centres blocking beds which might be used by their wild European cousins.

But perhaps more importantly, their use in the John Lewis advert is a reflection of the way we regard our native wildlife.

It would be a shoddy advert that used an image of Buckingham Palace when talking about the Palace of Westminster, for example, or the Mona Lisa when discussing the works of Botticelli. So why do we not pay as much attention to the very real natural wonders that we can find in our garden?

Was this carelessness or ignorance? The advertising company, Adam&EveDDB, claim their aim in the John Lewis advert was not to represent any particular species, as these animals are all ‘mythical’ anyway. Hallie – they’ve given the prickly little creature a name – is apparently the computer-generated imagery result of a composite of hedgehogs, though none of them European I fear.

The complaints that the advert has generated are more about the other species, though. The effective campaign of hatred against badgers and foxes has manifest in considerable ignorance, reflected in worries of the badger giving children TB and foxes attacking sleeping toddlers.

Foxes and badgers are among my favourite animals. Some of my first memories of wildlife came from the thrill of being watched by a fox. I remember hiding in the hedge in the fields behind my parents house in Chester, I would have been 8 or 9, and getting the sense that someone was looking at me and turning, slowly, expecting to see a person, and finding I was sharing a gaze with a fox.

The excitement of seeing a badger crossing your path at dusk is very real, they always seem much larger in the half light. And of course, I would not have spent 30 years studying and writing about hedgehogs if I was immune to their charm.

Now to the tricky bit – badgers and hedgehogs cavorting together? Well, I get regular links to videos sent to me from trail cameras set up in gardens that show hedgehogs and badgers feeding together, or in one memorable instance, the hedgehog scaring off the badgers.

When there is a rich source of food this does seem to happen. But, this is not, and forgive the joke, a black and white issue. For while we know that badgers eat hedgehogs, and we know that where there are increasing numbers of badgers, there are decreasing numbers of hedgehogs, it is actually a more complex issue. 

Badgers and hedgehogs are primarily competitors – they both eat worms and other invertebrates like beetles and caterpillars. But when the environment changes, when there is less of this food available, then predation can be a problem.

These two species have lived together since at least the retreat of the last ice sheet around 10,000 years ago. It is only now, because we humans have placed pressures on their habitats, that the hedgehog suffers from the attentions of the badger.

And while foxes would be hard pressed to tackle an adult hedgehog, they too are known to injure them and kill the young. Though it is not thought that they have an impact on the population as a whole.

Can we ‘blame’ these larger carnivores for their action? Nature can be rather red in tooth and claw, but nature can also be wonderfully adaptable. If we want, as I most certainly do, to see more hedgehogs in the wild we do not need to go attacking badgers and foxes, but instead should look more widely at improving the lot of all wildlife.

Hedgehogs face many problems at the moment. Their population has declined by around a third in urban areas and up to three quarters in the countryside. There are many factors at play.

The roads busy with cars kill thousands and chop up the landscape, stopping hedgehogs moving about.

Fields given over to industrial agriculture, smothered in agrochemicals and stripped of wildlife are no home to hedgehogs.

Even in our own gardens, lovingly tended for beauty, birds, bees and butterflies, we sometimes forget about the more interesting beasts that snuffle in the night.

This is why we launched the Hedgehog Street campaign. The collaboration of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is encouraging us all to think more about hedgehogs, and as a first step, make a small hole, only the size of a CD case, into our garden fences so that these prickly beauties can move.

hedgehog hole

In a rich environment, with plenty of food and shelter, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs can co-exist. These are not fantasy environments. We used to have such a countryside, and we can have the potential for similar diversity in our gardens, if we are willing to take the time to ‘think hedgehog’. 

It does not take much – a compost heap, leaf pile, escape ramp out of the pond, not forgetting those hedgehog-sized holes in fences and walls – small enough to keep out badgers and foxes.

So does the scene on the trampoline represent a vision of garden harmony? A deliberate attempt to show us some sort of ecological utopia?

Or is it, as I rather expect, like the choice of Hallie, an African hedgehog – done without any thought for our natural surroundings, but because it is cute and might just get us to spend a little more in the store?

Hedgehog Street is a brilliant and simple idea – don’t just make your garden hedgehog friendly; talk to your neighbours, get them ‘onside’ and then make a hole in the intervening fence.

Habitat fragmentation is an under-appreciated threat to wildlife conservation. The presence of individuals of a species can lull one into believing that they are okay – but if they are present in numbers too low, this can mean that the population is ‘functional extinct’ – that it will just die out.

There has been some very interesting work done on ‘viable populations’ – especially with regards to hedgehogs – and it has revealed the surprising amount of land that these little creatures need. In the best habitat possible (imagine an ecologically managed golf-course with suburban gardens backing on to it – all with holes in fences) – there needs to be at least 90 hectares of unfragmented land … that is around three 18-hole golf courses … Now when was the last time you found that sort of scale of unfragmented land?

Hedgehog Street is a brilliant and simple idea – yes – but it is only a seed. It would be a rare street that could command that sort of area. And this is why the new movement around the country to take the seed and allow it to blossom is so exciting. First there was the ‘Hedgehog Improvement Area‘ in Solihull – then I have been involved with launching Heaton’s Hedgehog Highway

Hedgehog

and the North Oxford Hedgehog Conservation Area – which has already seen some lovely new holes appearing (thank you Cherwell Boathouse)

hedgehog hole

There is a project growing in Suffolk and a couple of weeks ago I got to run a hedgehog ‘masterclass’ at Chester Zoo as they launch their Wildlife Connections event. They made a short video around an interview I gave (after speaking for 5 hours … hence bags under eyes and husky voice!)

I like the circularity of this work – we need to make connections to allow hedgehogs to thrive – and the only way to do that is to make connections within our community – talking not just to neighbours but to people further away – and to the institutions who help manage the tracts of land in between.

We might not be able to agree over the EU – but we can all, surely, come together to work for the improvement of the life of the hedgehog.

In or Out – as with previous elections it is important to learn from those nearest and dearest to help inform your decisions. As we have seen before, hedgehogs have a natural tendency of hedgehogs to vote Green, but the looming referendum presents a slightly different range of questions …

Hedgehogs are, mostly, fairly grumpy, solitary and smelly – so you could be forgiven for thinking this would suggest they were natural bed-fellows of Nigel Farage. They are a quintessentially British animal, we revere the hedgehog and it is the most popular species in the country – it is, therefore, important to know the truth.

And the truth is rather straightforward. For all the faults of the EU, for all of the very well paid bureaucrats and for all of the waste that comes with shifting offices back and forth there is a measure that we cannot ignore, and the hedgehogs most certainly do not.

Politicians in this country, particularly those on the right, HATE restrictions on ‘development’. Cameron declared a desire to ‘get rid of all that green crap‘ – or at least is alleged to. That ‘green crap’ is the fine line that keeps the biodiversity in this country as protected as it is – and if it goes, there will be an unfettered assault on the natural world. Roads, agriculture, fracking and housing will lose some of the very minor shackles that keep them in check.

The EU is flawed, but being outside it will see much of what we love threatened to an even greater extent than it already is. And this might be enough for a hedgehog to decide. Remember also that our hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, is the Western European Hedgehog – it is an animal of Europe.

But there is one other argument that must be considered. Who would you rather have round for dinner? Nigel Farage, Nigel Lawson, Boris Johnson or Michael Gove? Or Caroline Lucas? This is actually one of the easiest decisions of all!

Caroline Lucas

 

Felix would have been 16 today. And tonight we are going to celebrate his life with the launch of the Felix Hedgehog Project.

I never knew him, but his mother, Jane, got in contact with me last year to talk about about her son, about his love of wildlife and in particular his love of hedgehogs.

He died two years ago after contracting meningococcal septicaemia. Jane told me the story as we sat in a cafe in north Oxford, we both started crying. The pain she was experiencing was intense, but so was her passion to do something positive, to create a lasting memory for the boy she loved so much. We talked about hedgehogs and she asked what she could do, in his name, to help.

The plan we came up with was absurdly ambitious, I thought. After examining a map of her ‘patch’ it became clear that there was an area of over 100 hectares, bounded by the River Cherwell, the Banbury Road, the Marston Ferry Road and the city centre. An area that was full of large gardens and playing fields.

The scale of this area is important. Recent research from Dr Tom Moorhouse of Oxford University’s WildCRU showed that, in the very best hedgehog habitat, a viable population needs an unfragmented area of at least 90 hectares to thrive. And this reveals a significant probable cause for the dramatic decline in hedgehog numbers in Britain. Where are hedgehogs going to find such a large space un-bothered by fences, walls and busy roads?

Our project, Hedgehog Street, has been a wonderful start – nearly 40,000 households have signed up. But how many of them are going to be able to open up enough gardens to reach that magic figure of 90 hectares? Clearly it is better that holes are made to allow hedgehogs to move, but we need more than just a street. And this is why Jane’s work at communicating with her neighbours has been so crucial. We have the potential space to open up.

But … there is a problem. Many of these gardens are bounded by substantial brick walls – double thick and well set in deep foundations. How were we to meet the first and most important component of the Hedgehog Street manifesto – to make a hole? Again, undaunted, Jane set to work and found a serious drill to tackle the walls with which there are no other solutions. So impressed with the hole, the local press have been down to see what she has been up to, and also written a short piece to accompany the launch of the project to the wider community this evening.

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                            photograph: Oxford Times

The work won’t stop with tonight’s event. Neighbours will come and enjoy wine and canapés, suffer me talking about hedgehog ecology and being encouraged to take a more active role. The Dragon School is going to find a ‘hedgehog officer’ among the children. We hope that the college, Lady Margaret Hall, will also start to consider their gorgeous grounds with hedgehogs in mind.

Jane has recruited a volunteer, Nadia, who is launching a survey of the gardens before the work begins and she will be ensuring that everyone who comes is signed up to help. This will be repeated in a year to see if there is a notable change.

And as the good folk of north Oxford enjoy an evening in their gardens this summer, and they hear the tell-tale snuffle of a passing hedgehog, they should raise a glass to the memory of a boy who loved hedgehogs.

A charity has been set up in his memory. For more details, please visit their website.

I have covered a lot of hedgehog stories over the years – and helped generate them too. There has been, as I am sure you will have noticed, a recent and definite upswing in hedgehog output in all forms of media. This is not by accident. The more I can get hedgehogs into people’s consciousness the more likely we are going to be able to see the necessary shift in attitudes that might just slow and reverse the decline in numbers of this charismatic beast.

But even I have been taken by surprise with the latest offering … today the media is full of the Hedgehog Café in Tokyo. My facebook and twitter feeds have been full of people asking me if I have booked a trip there yet.

For those of you who have missed it, here is a short film from the Guardian. And if you can’t be bothered with that, well, here is what goes on – there is a café in Tokyo where you can have your coffee in the company of a hedgehog … simple as that. Not just any old wild hedgehog though, they have a very strict door policy. These are all pet hedgehogs, bred from a couple of species from African that are known as ‘pygmy hedgehogs’. The craze for this started in the USA in the early 1990s and swiftly became big business with breeding pairs exchanging hands for eye-watering fees. Different colour patterns were obtained through selection and now there is a wide range on offer – from albinos to patterned. I wrote about this in my first book, A Prickly Affair – and even got to visit the International Hedgehog Olympic Games! The photo is, obviously, of the sprint event …

The sprint at IHOG 07

Do hedgehogs make good pets? Well, if I had one I could probably be booked out all year long giving talks and letting people pet the prickly bundle (if I was lucky and had a nice one … remember, these solitary, nocturnal animals that like to run all night on a wheel while defecating, resulting in a rather messy hedgehog and cage). But I do not have a hedgehog – for those very reasons. And also because I am a relay big fan of WILDlife – I love our wild hedgehogs and I would hate to have attention pulled away from them and onto a pet. We do not own wildlife and we should never think that we do – we are part of wildlife and do well to remember that we are dependent on wildlife for our own well-being.

What we need to do is to pay attention to the work being done by Hedgehog Street – learn how to held hedgehogs in our gardens, learn how to share our hedgehogs with the wider community and appreciate the wonder of this animal.

Would I go to the Hedgehog Café? Well, if they bought me the ticket, I might just do so – if these are well cared for pet hedgehogs they will be fun to handle. I just would not want to have one myself. However cute they might be …

 

So, yesterday was interesting: the afternoon before I got a call from BBC Breakfast asking if I would appear on their (apparently famous) sofa to talk about the way the weather might be affecting hedgehogs – with a hedgehog. I said no – to the hedgehog and to the interview request as Saturday was my daughter’s 13th birthday party and I had to be there and the interview was in Salford. But it turned out if I drove, got to a hotel sometime after midnight, did interviews and jumped back in car I could, motorways allowing, be back in time … so I began a mad few hours of driving.

I ended up doing three interviews – the presenters, Charlie and Naga, were very good at being interested and engaged and it felt comfortable. Each interview I tried to make a little different, even though the audience does change I have since found out. I talked about the threats that hedgehogs face, about the need for habitat, food and connectivity, about the work of BHPS and PTES and how best to rescue a hedgehog seen out in the day – it was clearly getting to the presenters who were becoming really engaged, and I ended up being told I look like a hedgehog – on BBC1 – which might just overtake being described as ‘eccentric’ in the House of Commons.

Happy, exhausted and ready for a party, I got into the car and called up Fay from the BHPS … who dropped a bombshell – I had caused an eruption of anger because I had said two things … that hedgehogs under 450g will die during hibernation and that hedgehogs will eat bread and milk. And that this was being interpreted as me saying hedgehogs are fine at 450g and that we should feed hedgehogs bread and milk … I drove off feeling rather angry – how could people be so stupid to get wound up by this – surely they just need to listen to the words I said and not leap to their own conclusions.

Near Birmingham I stopped at a service station and checked in with my wife – I told her about the furore and she said, ‘I thought it strange you did not mention the lactose intolerance, you always do’ … and that third interview slowly re-emerged in my memory – starting to say that hedgehogs will eat bread and milk (I am so often asked this point – it is true, they will) and then being rushed on by producer gesticulating, getting distracted and not finishing the sentence.

I clicked open twitter and Facebook – and found something fascinating … had people really thought I advised feeding hedgehogs bread and milk? Who knows, but the really unpleasant series of comments that were being made was so deeply revealing of the audience I had upset … more on that in a moment. But first to the facts …

Hedgehogs will eat bread and milk. Hedgehogs cannot digest milk and it can make them ill. Wild hedgehogs eating a proper diet who come across a plate of bread and milk will not drop down dead if they eat it. Captive hedgehogs fed nothing but bread and milk probably will die. So clearly it is stupid to put bread and milk out for hedgehogs – they are carnivores and need meat.

As for body weight and hibernation – there are lots of people writing to me telling me that hedgehogs have to be 600g or 650g or other … to survive hibernation. I was simply making the point, based on the research of Pat Morris, that a hedgehog less than 450g will die …. I added that if they weigh more, then that is better.

The most significant revelation of this saga is – not that I forgot to say a phrase about lactose intolerance or raised the debate about release weights of hedgehogs – but the really nasty spirited people who lurk on social media. I admit I, to borrow a politician’s phrase, mis-spoke – but the bile that followed made me question something that has for so long been important to me – the deep respect I have had for those hedgehog rescuers I had met around the country.

This is aimed at those who found time to spout mean words in my direction (and I thank those who have written to me in support, upset at the attacks) – how can you spend so much time sat on social media and getting so irate when you have also spent so much time saying how you have no time because of all the hedgehogs in your care? I find that the hardest working carers tend to be the ones with the least social media activity. The attacks were designed to be bitter, hurtful and unkind. Many were not seeking clarification, nor were they acknowledging that there were three interviews, and that the bulk of the interviews were talking about hedgehog conservation.

I am deeply disappointed in the (I hope) minority of hedgehog carers who I ‘met’ yesterday. The snide, divisive and occasionally dim reaction to my mistake makes me worry about the community I am associated with. And I know I am not alone in being on the receiving end of such a frenzy – it is not an attractive characteristic.

Looking after hedgehogs and other wildlife is a massive undertaking – and I respect those who do it. But that does not give you liberty to behave with meanness in mind. I have, for many many years, been one of the most vocal advocates for the work of hedgehog carers – I talk and write at length of the wonderful work that is done. Hedgehogs are special animals, they allow our care and should, I would think, bring out the best in people. Let us see what sort of comments appear below …

Between Christmas and New Year, while all good hedgehogs should have been hibernating, ITV (eventually) got around to screening the glossiest of programmes about the prickly beasts. I admit to being very nervous about watching it – ready to be enraged at the stupidity that usually infects programmes on the one animal I know a bit about. I have developed a bit of an over-reaction to humanity’s graduates phoning me up from TV companies asking inane questions and demanding access to a hedgehog to film at 11am on a January morning …

So … I think this will count as my first TV review … and I must admit to a degree of connection – having met with the production company a few times, trying to steer them away from silliness, and am also a patron of Vale Wildlife Rescue, the wonderful centre that was used as a base for filming.

Some may balk at naming all the hedgehogs – but I can’t, as I did when I was researching them … and Jane Goodall named her chimpanzees, so that amount of familiarity is really quite reasonable. There were some shots that I found truly novel – like the swimming hedgehog filmed from underneath … BUT … it was clear that this was a set up shot, and having seen the team who made it at work, it will have been done many many times, and begins with a hedgehog ‘falling’ into a pond. There is no doubt that a little assistance was given – and this must raise issues regarding the stress the animal was put under. In their defence, there was a good message about ensuring water features have an escape route – a slope, beach or rocky margin that will let the hedgehog climb out.

Some in the hedgehog rescue world who get absurdly irritated about references to hedgehogs eating slugs – of course they eat slugs – they just do not do it to the exclusion of tastier morsels. And to say that hedgehogs don’t or shouldn’t eat slugs is just the sort of bonkers non-science that undermines our capacity to speak with some sense of authority.

So it was good to see the same behaviour I witnessed out in the wilds of Devon being repeated on camera – a hedgehog rolling a slug to scrape off the mucilage.

Then came something laughable – hedgehogs hate the rain???? Having spent months in the field radio-tracking hedgehogs – seemingly almost entirely IN THE RAIN – this has to be questioned!

I loved the section on hedgehog vocalisations – I wonder if anyone has heard European hedgehogs making the same sort of fluting, whistling noise I heard an African Pygmy Hedgehog make though ….

The section that had images of a hibernating hedgehog caught on a thermal camera I was deeply suspicious about – either to its veracity, or if true, how it was done without compromising hedgehog welfare.

Wonderful to see Hessilhead in the show – and Baldie was great. Though I was less convinced that a single spine could support the weight of a hedgehog.

Another bit of fiction then annoyed me, where a hedgehog was clearly just tipped off a rockery to get the shot of a falling hedgehog. Oh, and then ‘mating’ … have to say that was a low point. ‘Tiggy’ clearly did not relax her spines enough for the activity caught on camera to be a mating – that was an attempt, certainly, but unless this was a particularly well-endowed hedgehog, intercourse would have been unlikely!

Lovely footage of youngsters and news to me about the saliva licking. Gill Lucraft, from Hedgehog Bottom rescue, did really well and then there was a good a sensible piece about threats and badgers – though the section of a mum and young felt very staged.

So, over all? I though this was pretty but thin. For an hour long programme there was not that much in it … lots of repetition, lots of ‘what you will see after the break’ fillers and I did not like the obvious staging of events, but understand why they did it. I also wonder about the economics of making such a programme. I witnessed one section being filmed, when there was a Hedgehog Street Party in Chipping Norton. Three camera crews filming for around 5 hours (each) to generate 15 seconds of the programme? At least they included my stuffed hedgehog!

I feel that it was a shame the programme makers did not see fit to mention the groups who have been doing so much work to help hedgehog conservation in the country – i.e. BHPS and PTES – other than in the very small and fast moving credits. It would not have been much to add a reference at least to the Hedgehog Street project. And on a slightly egotistical note – I was disappointed that they had forgotten the vast amount of information that I had given them … a thank you would have been appreciated.

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’?

 

I intend to put a cat amongst some pigeons, or at least a hedgehog amongst robins with this …

Recently I was with Hedgehog Street at the Women’s Institute Centennial gathering in Harrogate. We had a garden designed by the amazing Tracy Foster that proved to be a great draw to the crowds. As with the garden we did last year at Hampton Court, we were again trying to show how easy it is to have something ravishing and hedgehog-friendly.

I was there for two days – being nice to people all day long is exhausting work, but I managed it (I hope). I have some concerns about the event and while that is not the focus of his blog, I will vent a little now – I thought it a fascinating insight into how little the people who ran the event thought of their membership. I have been all over the country talking to WI groups and they are a dynamic and feisty lot. This event was a glorified shopping trip – three soulless warehouses with stalls selling tat – and the women had to pay a large amount just to enter. If this had been set up as a celebration of the wonderful work of the WI with some shopping, fine, but it was clearly weighted the other way.

But to the real issue, for me. We at the Hedgehog Street stall were not the only wildlife charity on site …

and without wanting to sound like a pervert … can you tell who it is yet? How about this shot of the stall?

Maybe this magnificent representation of the hedgehog will give the game away …

The RSPB have noticed that the hedgehog is very attractive (far more interesting than all those birds, in my humble estimation) and have started to use it mercilessly in their advertising. I have had conversations with people that are very much ‘live and let live’, that all the money is going to help nature – and that we should not be seen as bickering and jealous as it demeans the conservation movement.

Well, balls to that. I know the rationale, I know the line they spin about ‘giving nature a home’ being for all wildlife, not just birds – but it comes down to economics. The RSPB would not be doing this unless they thought it was going to make them money. And that comes at a cost. We had people come up to the Hedgehog Street stall and say that they had already ‘given to help the hedgehogs’. If there is a person with £5 and they want to give it to help hedgehogs – and they see an RSPB stall, they will give it there and that will be £5 that does not make it to the BHPS and the PTES. That is not to say the RSPB is not doing good work, I am sure they are. But we are the ones funding the research into hedgehogs. We are the ones who working out ways to help hedgehogs in rural and suburban environments and we are the ones that are going to continue working on hedgehogs after the birders advertising campaign is done. And we are the ones who are losing out on those five pound notes.

So what is to be done? Should the RSPB lobby for the hedgehog to be reclassified as a bird? Should the BHPS start to raise money by using images of Hen Harriers, Hawfinches and Hawks? Or perhaps the RSPB could consider using some of its vast reserves to help fund our research? It would be good to hear what you think.

 

It is here again – and I have been reminded of the risk of freelance life – saying YES to too much! But the Oxford Festival of Nature is the perfect opportunity to further my plans for global domination – or at least converting people from ‘likers’ to ‘lovers’ – I want to drag people from couches and out into the woods – no more clean and remote observation of other people in the wild, but a down and dirty shared experience.

There are two talks – and I am interested to see who wins … we have BBOWT organising an event at the North Oxford Community Centre on Thursday 4th June where I will be talking about the wildlife eccentrics I have met – the wonderful encounters that made up the stories in The Beauty in the Beast. Of course I am merely observing the eccentrics being quite normal myself!

And on Wednesday 10th June, Waterstones have got me in to talk about hedgehogs – now they have not got me on a website yet, but there is a poster!

Which will get most people along?

While both of these talks are a great way for me to enthuse people, it is the real connection on Saturday 13th June at the Natural History Museum that gets me most excited … it might seem like I am just getting kids to stroke a piece of taxidermy and make some clay hedgehogs – but those moments of connection can really make a difference. I have just been at London’s Natural History Museum doing a day of talking – and the number of times it was the children who were leading the parents into a greater connection with nature was heart-warming. They were willing to come and touch my stuffed hedgehog, find out what the spines are made from and how many there are.

Some of my favourite results from previous festivals of nature have come weeks and months later, when I have met families again, by chance, and the children have told me about the fun they had and how they still have the hedgehog they made. These moments are some of the very best wildlife moments I get … who needs to be in a sweaty landrover tracking lions in Africa? Come and find a real wild life on your doorstep.

Come and see a talk or meet me and make a hedgehog!