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


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.

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 …


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 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!

Hedgehogs are in the news, again.

You have to admit that we have a pretty good PR machine in operation around this rather special animal. And it trundles along, oblivious to all the fuss – unless we have recruited one to be a film star as I have done on a few occasions.

But today things might be about to change – and the hedgehogs might just notice something different, especially if they live in Warwickshire and around Solihull in particular. Because the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has employed a ‘Hedgehog Officer’ and launched an innovative ‘Hedgehog Improvement Area.‘ This project has been funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

They are linking up 90 hectares of hedgehog friendly habitat – incorporating a park, nature reserve and housing. This is the next step from our wonderful Hedgehog Street project – because we now know quite how large an area hedgehogs need to thrive. Computer modelling has shown that they need, in the VERY bets of conditions, 90 ha to give them a chance of maintaining a viable population.

At the current rate of expansion – streets to areas in four years – I am predicting a complete overthrow of the established order by the ‘Hedgehog Initiative’ within a decade. We will put in place legislation, through a benign version of dictatorship, that will ensure everywhere is hedgehog friendly …  Hedgehog Officers will become a regular part of every council, in fact they will run the councils.

Okay – got to go and do a radio interview about this – strange how things change, a few years ago I would have fought to get the job of Warwickshire’s Hedgehog Officer … but books have got in the way. Maybe when Oxford recognises the need to have one, I will get my chance!

Another busy weekend – this time off to the Manchester Festival of Nature where I was running a stall for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and also doing four talks in the story-telling tent. The festival was one of a series organised as part of the BBC’s Summer of Wildlife, and was the second I have done – and it was interesting for what it did and did not achieve.

It took place in Heaton Park – the largest park in Greater Manchester, and up in the north of the city in an area that has yet to be attacked by gentrification. Part of the reasoning for having it up there was to engage with a different demographic – if it had been in south Manchester (where I used to live, in Chorlton, there is a gorgeous park that would have been perfect) – it would have been flooded (appropriate as it is a water park) by the well-to-do middle-classes who have made the area their home. So would the Heaton Park event do what it set out to do?

To some extent – the weather was not perfect – or at least the weather forecast had been off-putting. The day itself had only a brief flurry of rain. And there was plenty of indoor activities. But there were far fewer people than I expected – despite the presence of CBBC superstar Naomi Wilkinson. And of the people who came to my stall and who came to my talks, there was, on asking, quite a high proportion who had travelled from the far side of the city … so what does it take to reach out into an audience who might not be used to coming to such a potentially fulfilling event?

I am not, for a rare change, writing this to tell people what to do … I am just interested in ways of reaching a working class demographic. Hedgehog-love is not restricted to class! But there are clearly some obstacles to getting people to come to such an event, despite it being free.

That is not to say that I did not have a great time (though someone did nick the clay hedgehog I had made … and only £3 was put into the BHPS collecting box). The story-telling sessions I did were well-attended … and we did eventually (halfway through) reach an agreement with the next door tent of drummers so that the shut the &*%$ up for a while. Loads of clay hedgehogs were made, and I talked to many people about how best to run your garden for a hedgehog’s delight … pushing Hedgehog Street as well.

Oh, and Naomi was a big fan … I had to re-do my ‘How to train your robin’ story as she had missed it … though she did manage to find a way of wriggle out of making her own clay hedgehog …

It was fascinating to see how children reacted to her – she has a magnetic impact on them – are they attracted to her simply because she is on TV? Or does she possess a particular magic? I know that my daughter has been hooked, and that Mati has requested that I get divorced, in order that I can re-marry Zoe and be on the show ‘Marrying mum and dad‘ that Naomi has been presenting! For me, though, her wonderfulness is entirely linked to the fact that she interviewed me on Blue Peter … earning me a Blue Peter badge!

What is going on? Where are the hedgehogs? Of course, there are many of you out there who have started to see the trickle of visitors come to your garden, but there is now evidence that this is a much slower and later trickle than usual.

I was at the Mammal Society’s annual meeting in Exeter at the weekend and was fascinated by the Mike Tom’s talk on how the other team can help us mammal fans. Mike is the Head of Garden Ecology at the British Trust for Ornithology and has been brilliant at helping us understand more of what we are seeing. He is also the recipient of jealousy inducing quantities of data.

There is something that the bird lovers do very well – collecting data. In fact in the BTO’s long-running Garden BirdWatch survey 15,000 people taking part are so keen that they actually pay to do the work.

In recent years there has been a move to branch out from just birds – and information is now collected on dragonflies, butterflies and other groups, including, of course, the hedgehog. And this has allowed them to plot a graph of when hedgehogs are being seen first in gardens, revealing a very clear picture of late emergence – around a month later than in 2011 and 2012.

Should we be worried? I think yes, most definitely. Last year was rotten, not just for us but for much of our wildlife. While there may have been an abundance of slugs in many gardens, this does not necessarily translate into a bumper year for hedgehogs. Yes, hedgehogs eat slugs, but their main diet comes in the form of other macroinvertebrates such as worms and beetles. Additionally, there seems to be a correlation between wet summers, increased slugs and rises in the numbers of hedgehogs found with lung worm and other debilitating parasites.

This would suggest that hedgehogs entered hibernation last year not as fit/fat as they could have been. Couple this with the very long winter and you have a problem …will the hibernating hedgehogs have enough fat reserves to make it through? We will find out in the next few months.

But we will only find out if you continue to feed data into the many surveys that take place. There is no one else out there doing the work, it is just us – citizen scientists – recording what we see and passing the data onto those who can make sense of it all – so if you can, look at joining up with the BTO or PTES work – join in with HedgehogStreet and see what else you can do to help this much loved animal by looking at what the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has to offer.



Hedgehogs are getting everywhere – if only it was beyond the pages of papers and magazines. There has been a veritable flurry of hedgehoggery – that has kept me, and the teams at the BHPS and the PTES, very busy for the past couple of weeks.

The news that sparked all the attention was the disturbing data from two long-running surveys that revealed a fall in numbers of hedgehogs considerably in excess of what we had previously thought.

While Mammals on Roads showed a 32% decline in the last ten years, the long-running Living with Mammals survey indicated a decline of 37% between 2003 and 2012. The declines are not uniform across the country, with a spread of between 3% and 5% disappearing each and every year. Read More →