It was great to see, but over in a flash … here is the link to the i-player for Countryfile. I appeared just after the hedgehog at 11.00 minutes in:

And if that was not enough, the wonderful Roman Krznaric has published an interview with me on his blog – Outrospection.

Here is our conversation – but I really recommend a rootle through the work of this fascinating man:

Roman Krznaric: You’ve written a whole book about hedgehogs, and were described in a recent review as having an ‘endearingly batty’ obsession with them. Why do you personally care about these creatures so much?

Hugh Warwick: I started studying the ecology of hedgehogs nearly 25 years ago. To begin with I was just fascinated by how little we knew about this charismatic animal. But the more time I spent with hedgehogs, the more I came to realise that they have a wonderful quality. They endear themselves to people, they are attractive, quirky and eccentric. But my epiphany came on a night out with Nigel – when I ended up nose-to-nose with this hedgehog I was radio-tracking. As he looked up at me and our eyes met I became aware that there is no other wild creature we can do this with. I had a glimpse of his essential wildness, while at the same time he was obviously looking at me. He went back to eating, I was left feeling slightly altered. So at the heart of the whimsically titled book I have written (A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog) is something a little deeper about our connection with the natural world.

RK: There is a lot of debate in empathy circles about whether it is possible for human beings to empathise with animals. The suggestion is that we are so different from bats, dolphins, elephants and most other animals that we are incapable of understanding their feelings and thoughts, and stepping empathetically into their skins. Their experiences are, ultimately, alien to us. As someone who has become intimate with hedgehogs and spoken to hedgehog aficionados worldwide, do you think it is possible for us to empathise with animals in general, and hedgehogs in particular? Can we really step into their spiny skins?

HW: I completely agree that it is impossible to know exactly what it feels like to be a hedgehog, we do not have the vocabulary. But that does not prevent a degree of empathy – and what I ask people to do is to change their perspective. Literally. Get down at hedgehog level, get nose-to-nose with a hedgehog and then look at their world from this position. This will give you an insight into the complications we have thrown in the path of hedgehogs.

But on the whole, and despite the contradiction with my night out with Nigel, I am not that keen on the idea of empathising with a hedgehog – but with hedgehogs. I believe there is a risk of getting mired in sentimentality if you focus your attentions on an individual. But there is freedom to be had when allowing this to spread to the species as a whole – and then on to the ecosystem that supports it. The individual hedgehog is a gatekeeper of a deeper love of the natural world. The risk I believe is in getting stuck in the gate. Don’t stop, keep moving.

RK: You refer to the evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson’s idea of biophilia, which he describes as ‘the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms’. It has always struck me that empathy and biophilia are very closely related. What do you think?

HW: I am not sure whether we are empathising with nature – it would be as if we were empathising with the air we breath and the water we drink. It is more than empathy – it is a deeply seated physical need. There is plenty of evidence that shows we humans suffer when removed from contact with nature.

But certainly the idea is closely related – and I use our empathetic relationship with the hedgehog as a way of altering our perspective on the world around.

As an aside, I wanted to call my book The Hedgehog’s Dilemma (it has that title in the US). It refers to the Schopenhauer idea – two hedgehogs / people want to be close to each other, but if they get too close, they get hurt, yet if they are too far apart, they become bereft. And I believe we have that relationship with the planet – we cannot all go and do a Thoreau and live in the woods, we would destroy it. But if we are totally removed from it, we get sick.

RK: Even if we are able to empathise with hedgehogs and other animals, does it really matter? How can it help us nurture our bonds with the natural world, especially in a way that inspires us to take action to preserve it?

After what I have just said this seems a little prosaic. By sharing a hedgehog’s perspective we can see what problems it faces. Whether it is the cars on the roads that not only threaten extinction, but also fragment the environment, preventing movement – to the litter that collars and kills hedgehogs to the gardens given over to car-ports, decking and patios and the borders cleaned of life with agro-toxins – we get to see those anthropogenic threats all the more clearly.

But for me the most important thing is the contact of the eyes – looking at a hedgehog looking at me – eyes meeting and there being this almost intangible spark of wildness. We cannot get that connection with wildness easily. Maybe hiking up a mountain or along a forest trail, there may be that sense of wildness. But here, in my own back garden, I have a doorway into the wild, one that many people can share without corrupting what we so need to survive. Which is a long way round of saying, gaze at a hedgehog and let yourself fall in love with nature. Once you have fallen in love you are all the more likely to change yourself to enable the relationship to continue. So, go love a hedgehog and help save the world. Or as I put it in the book – ‘Save the hedgehog, Save the world’ (thanks to Heroes for that one).

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