Sometimes I marvel at the ability of the hedgehog to take me into previously uncharted realms, such as, in this case, the larcenous behaviour of Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Now you might imagine that this is going to be a searing critique of the brilliant way in which the very very rich have managed to persuade us that the only way to pay back the debts of the very very rich is to take lots of money away from the very poor. Turkeys and Christmas spring to mind … I am sure that as soon as people wake up to what is going on that we will see plenty more activity on the street.

Waking up is crucial – we are fed such a mass of inanity, we are taught to desire what we have not got and despise what we have. We are presented with the burblings of those to whom we are supposed to aspire – minor celebrities etc – in such a way that the thoughts of a person who slept with a footballer will get more attention in the press and sell more books than a serious, beautifully written and important book looking at the reasons for environmental collapse (and that is not a plug for A Prickly Affair, this is – the perfect present for Christmas).

Wake up to the fact that we are being presented with bread and circuses – MacDonalds and the royal wedding; KFC and the X-Factor – this is like some cheap sci-fi film, the population of a future world subdued with stupour-inducing food and distraction – allowing the overlords to writhe around in an orgy of wealth and comfort gifted to them by the poor.

Sorry – back to the point. Comedy website Chortle has found that our lavishly comfortable Chancellor is not content with stripping the arts, wildlife or the environment of their funding to line the pockets of his friends, he is also happy to steal the work of others and claim it as his own!

The widely revered comic Dan Antopolski won the award for the best joke of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, by the Dave TV channel. I was on the radio with him – he is almost a mate (though I think he drifted off when I started to explain how his joke contained within it some serious ecological truths … ). And the joke?

Hedgehogs, why can’t they share the hedge?

It is good. I use it (and credit Dan every time) in my talks to the Women’s Institute. George Osborne used it as his contribution to The Laughing Soldier: The British Army Joke Book – and claimed it as his own (or at least did not acknowledge Dan).

So that should be enough to tip the masses onto the streets, I reckon. Never mind the homeless, jobless, artless wasteland the ConDems are busy creating – just look at the sort of person who is running the show … a joke thief. You don’t get lower than that!

What an animal the hedgehog is. Not only the source of 2009’s joke of the year at the Edinburgh Fringe from Dan Antopolski: Hedgehogs, why can’t they just share the hedge? But also credited with being the most important species on the planet. By me.

Okay, I know this is a bold claim and there are others who might argue for worms, bees, plankton or people. But I believe that the hedgehog is up there among those more obvious candidates. And that is not just because I have been studying the animal, off and on, for the last twenty years. Or because one night I fell in love with a hedgehog called Nigel.

Actually before I explain that – there is something else the hedgehog has to offer, thanks to the arch-pessimist, Schopenhauer. He described the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, a metaphor for relationships between people. Two hedgehogs are in love, but when they get too close to each other, they hurt themselves with prickles – so they back off and get to a point where they are too far apart and suffer from the pain of loneliness.

While many of us may suffer from this in our personal lives, I believe that we are all suffering from a Hedgehog’s Dilemma on a much bigger scale. Our dilemma is with the natural world. When we get too close to ‘out there’, if we were all, for example, to move into the wilds, we would simply destroy what we were seeking.

But we are also removing ourselves from contact with the natural world. Now, for the first time, we are a majority urban species; there are more and more people who have little or no contact with nature. This leaves us bereft – and a growing body of work is beginning to reveal the consequences to our physical and mental well-being.

E.O. Wilson from Harvard started this field of work with the creation of a new word – biophilia – a recognition of the fact that we have an innate need to be in touch with nature. More recently this has been wonderfully explored by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods – Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Now as soon as I heard that term, nature-deficit disorder, I knew that it was vital. It perfectly captures the consequences of our bereavement from nature and our failure to solve the hedgehog’s dilemma.

So where is the relationship between this philosophising and the importance of the hedgehog? And where does Nigel come into it all?

Okay, first to Nigel. I had been radio-tracking hedgehogs in Devon and at around four in the morning, as I went to clean my teeth outside the damp and cold caravan I was living in, I noticed one of my animals just sitting there. It was Nigel. I decided to follow him, no electronics, just us. Over the next hour I got closer and closer until there came a point where I was lying on my stomach and we were nose-to-nose. And then he looked at me. Up until then, I had been observing, he had been snuffling and getting on with the business of being a hedgehog. But at that moment, he stopped and looked up at me. The importance of this; there is no other wild animal that we can do this with. You can get nose-to-nose with your pets, but all the other wild animals I have had anything to do with just would not allow this sort of intimacy.

With that sort of intimacy there is a far greater chance of falling in love with the natural world. Love alters behaviour. And we need to alter our behaviour if we are to have any chance of averting catastrophe.

So perhaps the biggest challenge faced by the large wildlife and conservation organisations is in getting people to truly fall in love with the natural world.

How do we encourage people to fall in love with the natural world? It is a bit of a big thing to tackle on its own. So conservation and wildlife charities focus on the charismatic mega fauna to try and seduce us.

Whales, tigers, lions and elephants are the poster-children of their movement. Which is great, up to a point. The risk is that this generates a very superficial, almost sentimental, reaction. I suppose it is a bit like relying on images of supermodels to instruct our understanding of human relationships. It works okay for hormone-ravaged adolescents, but is less effective, and in fact downright destructive, when it comes to more mature considerations of our loves and ourselves.

I reckon I am about as likely to get nose-to-nose with a humpbacked whale as I am with, say, Angelina Jolie. And even if I did get that close, would there be a spark, a bond? We are much more likely to fall in love with the girl or boy next door. And the hedgehog is the animal equivalent of the boy or girl next door.

Getting moved and becoming passionate are key to us all becoming more involved in creating the change we want to see, and in fact becoming the change we want to see, to steal a line from Gandhi.

We can love a hedgehog like no other animal. It is the first and probably only wild animal that we urbanites and suburbanites have a chance of getting really close to. The hedgehog chooses to share the same space as us and if we are willing to change our point of view and get down on its level, we will be rewarded by the opening of a door into a deeper understanding of the natural world. Once the connection has been made, once we have had that chance to do the nose-to-nose thing and see the spark of wild in its eye, then we can follow it through into a new world view.

Hugh Warwick