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 …


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.


Kindling ideas – of delight and revolution

A friend of mine was railing against the rise of UKIP in these elections as an indication of ‘the death of ideas’. More accurately, it is evidence of most people not bothering to vote – but still, there is some truth in it. We have, as a country, allowed ourselves to be seduced by wall-to-wall coverage from the BBC that an outspoken individual uttering political platitudes is the same as someone with vision. The lowest common denominator should not be the determinant of a society that has honesty and justice at its heart.

So it is rather reassuring that there are ideas out there … and I was fortunate enough to be able to gather some of them (and their people) into a tent at the wonderful Wood Festival. This was the second year I have run the Kindling Tent – and already it feels like it is picking up momentum. While most people enjoyed one of the country’s most perfect and family friendly festivals, I spent two days in my canvas cave being washed with wonder as the clever, wise and brave shared their passion with the audience.

Poet George Roberts designed this flyer,

and a lesson learned for next year is that we need lots more and we need to put them on the backs of the doors of all the compost toilets – just as Nick Lunch did to promote his fascinating vision for Westhill Farm. George also launched a deeply interesting collection of poems and ideas during his session.

Sessions are brutally controlled (by me) – everyone had 30 minutes during which they could do what they wanted but would be kicked out immediately the time was up. And next year I am going to shift it a little – because most people had so much to say that they spoke for all 30 minutes … leaving no time for debate. So I will advise people to aim for 15 minutes of speaking – allowing more time to get ideas bubbling with more people.

Jackie Singer opened proceedings, but the weather failed to present me with the joke I had hoped for … first festival of the year, I presumed it would rain, so with Jackie talking about and doing a water ritual, I thought it would be really funny for her to be competing with the beating of rain on the roof. But no, lots and lots of sun!

There have been mutterings about nepotism in my selection of speakers … but then again, this is all done for love and I will only be able to ask people I know as then I will know they can do what is needed. So the fact that my wife, Zoe Broughton, was talking should not be taken as an indication of favouritism – because she is genuinely ace. Her history in video activism is fascinating and if you have a chance to see her speak: go see her.

Oliver Tickell recently took over the helm of The Ecologist and really managed to get an interesting debate going with the crowd. Following on from him, Al Chisholm talked about the really important campaign looking to get Oxford dis-investing from oil companies.

Roman Krznaric was one of my ‘must get’ names for this year – his latest book on Empathy is brilliant and his talk, calling for an empathy revolution is witty and challenging.

Who could follow that? Luckily it was George Marshall – an old friend who set up COIN and is now about to have published one of the most important books on the psychology of climate change denial – ‘Don’t even think about it’. He was (and is) wonderful.

Jess Worth has been at the heart of some of the most entertaining direct action I have been a part of – tackling the sponsorship of the arts by oil companies. She even did a soliloquy

Keeping art to mind, Stephen Hancock was naughty and funny and rude and serious – he can call it what he likes, but I always think of him as a revolutionary poet. George Roberts made us cry (again) and the first day finished with Amy Fensome telling us why bats are just so special … and leading into the first ‘bat-walk’ Wood has seen.

The bat-walk was a bit of a disaster … Amy had come with 5 detectors and we expected up to ten people … Nearly 100 turned up – and with at least half of them energetic children, there was little hope we were going to hear or see anything … I think most people had fun as we talked about bats, but it was not until most had gone that we got to see and hear a pipistrel up in the carpark!

It would have probably been better had I not stayed out dancing to a wonderful set(t) from DJ Badger until the early hours – but it was fun to see the Kindling Tent quite so packed!

Sunday morning began with a gentle introduction to the art of the didgeridoo from the best of Oxford’s tree surgeons, Richard Upton. Following on from that was a set of local campaigns and organisations that are all so brilliant – Nick Lunch, Phil Pritchard talking about the Earth Trust; Lucie Mayer being calmly resilient on behalf of the City Farm and the incomparable Rina Melendez talking about the refill revolution that is SESI.

James Atherton, manager of Lush cosmetics shop in Oxford came with a bag of goodies and quite the funniest introductions to their charity pot – which raises an eye-watering amount of money to environmental and animal causes each year. They even got us into a massage train … I think we need more of that next year!

There has to be an A-lister at an event like this, and we were very lucky to have Phil Ball – one of Greenpeace’s Arctic 30 – talking about the drama of arrest at gunpoint and life in a Siberian jail. It was touch and go as to whether this action-man would make it due to a debilitating back injury received while …. rolling over in bed and turning off his alarm clock!

It was a testament to the quality of Clare Cochrane that she could do her session having just watched most of the massive crowd leave after Phil – but she was wise and affecting, talking about Reclaim the Night and reminding us that feminism is still very much needed as an idea.

Sasha Norris has done many amazing things, and could have talked about TV work with the wildlife glitterati, but instead talked about her projected to get individuals planting trees. And finally – a little bedgraggled and quite exhausted, it was my turn – to talk about the wonder of wildlife and reasons why we need wild love.

I am thrilled with how the Kindling Tent was received. And even more so to hear bits of feedback – ‘it was the heart of the festival’ said one. One shy young man spent much of the Sunday session in the tent and said to a friend of mine how it had been so great to find people who thought and had ideas, how none of his friends back home would ever be interested in this.

I want to do the Kindling Tent again next year (and have had calls to take it to other festivals too … not sure I can cope with the logistics of that!) – and I would love to have your thoughts. What could be done better? Who should I invite? What subjects might be interesting to explore?

Thank you to the various Bennets who make Wood happen for allowing me to have such fun in my own little corner – see you in the field next year!


I have just had a new review posted on Amazon for The Beauty in the Beast – and I have never read anything quite so lovely … And as it is just on their site I thought I would massage my ego by spreading it far and wide … and possibly just tip one of you over the edge into buying the book for your friends and relatives for Christmas! So – here it goes (and I did no write this – but to whomever did, thank you!) Read More →

I am so close to nearly having the website up and running in the manner that I want it to be that I am unable to hold off … mainly because it has material on it about which I am rather proud. You will see that the url has changed – and that now this is all at www.urchin.info – which site also has the podcasts that go with my new book, a gallery of photographs (some of which are related to the book (and which will be working soon, I hope)), a smattering of articles I found online and my events page … just wondering whether I should start to put WI talks in there as well! Read More →

It took until the night of the 20th April to see a hedgehog this year … partly due to me not being out wandering around, but partly, also, due to hedgehogs taking a little longer to emerge from hibernation this year.

I had been giving a lecture to the Devon Mammal Group in Exeter – a great crowd filled with interesting questions (and also eager to buy books, I like that a lot) – and went to stay with my old friend Kelvin Boot. I met him when he was the presenter of the Natural History Programme and I was but a menial researcher … back in 1993. He is a great naturalist and is full of stories about the wildlife in his patch of Devon as well as the wider world. Just now he is involved with ocean acidification – ‘the other CO2 problem’.

Not sure whether hedgehogs will be affected by this for a while, but their namesakes, sea urchins, will be affected. As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, so the amount absorbed by the sea also increases. This creates an increase in the acidity of the water – which makes it harder for organisms that require calcium carbonate (ie all the ones with shells and bones … which is a lot of them) to gather it from the water. An extreme version of this is to drop something rich in calcium carbonate into vinegar … it will dissolve. Now, the sea is not going to turn to vinegar, but the changes will affect all marine life – and in turn, all life on the planet.

There are hard-nosed scientists out there who fear that this is a more serious problem than global warming/climate change. And some of them fear that it is already too late to change the course we have set.

Kelvin helped a school make this movie about the problem:

The Other CO2 Problem

now that is homework I would like to have received.

And while out with Kelvin yesterday, we got to see Little Egrets and hear their courtship noises – a little like a dunk man trying to impersonate a turkey … not the sort of think one would expect from an elegant white bird. The RSPB have more info and a sound clip here.

Just to add to the great day, on the way back from the estuary where we had been watching the egrets, a stoat dashed across the road.

Now I need a hedgehog to visit my garden, it is only fair really!

Just got a piece about the Uists onto the Guardian website about the Uists, hedgehog carers and the recession …

oh – and a photograph of a hedgehog being looked after (because it is better than the one the Guardian used!) at Sue Kidger’s rescue centre in Twickenham.

The massive difference in people’s attitudes to wildlife is starkly revealed today. On the one had the Scotsman has reported on the costs of the hedgehog-eradication programme in the Uists – so far £1.2 million has been spent, and they are planning on spending a further £1 million. This is all with the aim of improving the breeding success of ground-nesting birds – a few hedgehogs were introduced in 1974 to control slugs and snails in a garden, but have since been enjoying the freedom of the islands (freedom from badgers and heavy traffic) – unfortunately they have also been enjoying the freedom of the massive egg-breakfast laid for them by the internationally important populations of wading birds, like dunlin and ringed plover.

When the eradication started, in 2003, there was a furore as Scottish Natural Heritage were killing the hedgehogs, and many of us ended up helping to rescue them. Eventually we managed to persuade them that killing was unnecessary (for a more detailed analysis – here is a paper that summarises the research I did) and since 2006 SNH have been handing the animals over to the one-time rescuers to relocate on the mainland.

And how much is that per hedgehog? Over £800 to remove each and every hedgehog. And that is not the half of it – up until this year, the work has, in effect, been subsidised by animal welfare charities – who have used their voluntary labour to re-home the animals after their deportation from the Outer Hebrides. All of the hedgehogs come to the indescribably wonderful Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue hospital.

The other measure of our attitudes to hedgehogs and wildlife in general is a story that features another wildlife rescue hospital.  The Guardian is running a piece today, including video, from Vale Wildlife Rescue in Gloucestershire, which is making the rather important point that hungry wildlife needs to be fed and the food costs money. It is not just Vale – and I am sure they would be the first to make this clear – but wildlife rescue centres all over the country and feeling the pinch and need a little help. Not just money – find out what they actually need – is it old newspapers, tins of dog food – and see what you can do. If only all the wildlife rescuers got £800 for each hedgehog!!

And back up in the Uists, has all this money been well spent? Well, when the British Trust for Ornithology did a survey, to investigate the impact the removal of hedgehogs was having on the breeding success of ground nesting birds, they uncovered something rather startling: in some areas where hedgehogs had been removed, the birds were doing LESS well than where the hedgehogs were left alone and declines in dunlin were happening at the same rate in areas with hedgehogs and on islands without.

SNH have now acknowledge this and said that there is no “statistically robust evidence” that all their work “has as yet resulted in a positive response in wader populations”. They continue to suggest that there may be “other variables” having an impact on the bird populations … well, I hate to say ‘I told you so’ … but ‘I TOLD YOU SO’ … I did a study into a very similar story, up on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney archipelago, way back in 1986, and found that while hedgehogs did take some eggs, they were not the main cause of the problem. All too often, wildlife managers leap to a ‘Daily Mail-esque’ conclusion – blame it on the illegal immigrant and get rid of them by what ever means necessary. Well, sometimes it is not the different-looking newcomer who is at fault … so rather than spending another million pounds shifting hedgehogs, perhaps now is time to look at the problem afresh.