The paperback for The Beauty in the Beast is out – and I am thrilled. The cover design, by Art Director Liane Payne, is innovative and wonderful (she also did the hardback cover) – I heard that she was handed my manuscript to pass on to someone in her team but was so taken by it she kept it to herself. Well, I am a big fan of hers. When you have read the book you will notice all the detail on the cover has been taken from minute details within!

But perhaps the most thrilling thing about the paperback is the foreword.

When I was at school there a few guitarists who really shook my world – Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and David Gilmour, for example – but there was one who really stood out. I wanted to sound like this guitarist even though the band he played for were a little bit unfashionable (at the time). I never managed to sound like him and then someone (probably a neighbour) stole my electric guitar and amp. I also never thought I would meet him … though I did get a quote from him for A Prickly Affair, as he had helped raise money to halt the ridiculous hedgehog cull in the Uists.

Then last year I was asked to help with the compering at the ‘Wildlife Rocks‘ event in Guildford. The wildlife extravaganza was the brain child of my idol … Brian May. Turned out I was going to be doing all the compering – introducing and thanking around 24 ‘acts’ – and at the end Brian took a copy of my book and said he would write a few lines to help. These few lines expanded into this call to action in defence of our wildlife. It is also a  rather pleasing endorsement (I blushed when I read it!).

So now – for you (and you have to promise to go and buy the book if you read this!) … my royal endorsement … (this really is the closest I will ever get to the Queen!)

 

‘Hugh Warwick’s book The Beauty in the Beast comes at an opportune moment. It is a gentle weapon of war against those who threaten the well-being and the very existence of our precious and entirely innocent wild animals. It is timely because we all now stand at a crossroads which will determine how the human race goes forward – either in harmony with the bountiful riches of life on this blue planet, or selfishly and ignorantly, plunging the world into a sterile abyss in which humans have obliterated the rest of life on Earth.

Books that encourage us to appreciate and love the natural world are more important than ever.  We have become so far removed from the magic of Nature that we need strong reminders to reconnect us. The concerns may strike us when we take a moment to wonder what kind of a world our grandchildren will inherit.  We may also begin to be concerned about ecology, the balance of populations and the survival of species; biodiversity has at least become a word we are all familiar with.  But a true enlightenment only comes when we realise that our concerns must go much deeper than survival of species.  It is when we realise that every single creature on Earth matters that we come up against the shocking discovery that the human race has veered horribly off the tracks.

Britain, in particular, prides itself as a nation of animal lovers, yet we have turned a blind eye to a mountain of cruelty and abuse for hundreds of years.  In the present day, where the Internet enables us to see into every shady corner of human activity, there is no longer any excuse for allowing cruelty to continue – this applies to all creatures, whether human or not.

My own love of Nature has always been part of my make-up but it was a gradual growth of understanding of how cruel we really are to other species that led me to take up arms against the abuse of animals. Along with a consortium of animal-aware campaigns I have been working for the past few years on ridding the countryside of the inexcusable behaviours that are justified by ‘tradition’, or blinkered views of farming husbandry which place the value of a wild animal at zero. We who work in Animal Welfare are determined that wild animals and all creatures shall have a voice, in public affairs and eventually at government level, whereas at the present time they have absolutely no representation.

Outdated toxic views of the world lead to the blood-hunting of foxes, stags and hares, to badger-baiting, dog-fighting, and to an impending massacre of Britain’s most ancient family-oriented species, the British badger, in the so-called ‘badger cull’. There is no suggestion that this is a cull in the proper meaning of the word – for the health of the herd – it is simply a random slaughter of mostly healthy animals.  All kinds of attempts are made to justify these tragic aberrations by a government that has lost all touch with the real needs and wishes of the residents of these islands, human and non-human.  It is our job to restore decency and sanity to the acts of our species and our nation for the good of those who are at present abused, for the good of the planet and, in the end, for our own welfare too.  The world will be a destitute place when all that is left is a landscape overpopulated with humans and devoid of any other life.

Hugh writes not just about the power of compassion – of people who do not want to see wildlife killed – but also about the science, which roundly condemns this behaviour, and ethically why it is simply wrong. Hard decisions have to be taken as we try to balance the immediate perceived needs of humans with the last remnants of our natural world.  But the evidence is there for all to see: that no good can come of the killing.

Any hope for a decent future depends on us acting in harmony with the life around us, not in conflict with it.

This is why The Beauty in the Beast is an important book. Gently wise, the facts are delightfully delivered with a good dose of humour. Warwick gives us every possible reason to fall in love all over again with the natural world; it is a love which, in the coming crucial months and years, will inspire us to fight for a compassionate world.’

Brian May, January 2013

 

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.

 

 

Eighteen months ago I got my second (and last) tattoo – for the less squeamish of you there is even a video! It was the culmination of my book, The Beauty in the Beast. It was also the culmination of my midlife crisis – which included not just two tattoos (no prizes for guessing the first), but also my first (and last) attempt at stand-up comedy and also my first (and last) dance class.

Clearly my attempt to restrict my midlife crisis failed and I have been dancing to the sweaty excess of the 5Rhythms ever since.

Now some might find it strange to think that there is much overlap between the wonder of the toad – that featured so prominently in my book – and dancing. But there is and there continues to be, if last night is anything to go by. My toad ambassador was the delightful Gordon Maclellan aka Creeping Toad – and who could not love someone who has ‘Hoorah for the small and wriggly’ as the title of their latest blog post!

Gordon took me dancing – shamanic dancing – in an attempt to help me find my inner toad. The experience was not quite as I would have liked it – I had made a number of crucial mistakes (like forgetting to check whether we were dancing inside or out … it was as crisp a January as the High Peaks have had) and it left me with just one moment of revelation – that it is rather tricky to dance into a transcendent state whilst wearing tweed.

However, the more I talked with Gordon, the more appealing the toad became – the mysterious world of transformations and hidden jewels being just a part of it. So the animal was high in my mind as I cycled back from a 5Rhythms class around two years ago – and found myself nose-to-nose with a gorgeous toad. This helped stimulate my toad-love – and lead to the tattoo.

A lot has happened since then – the book has fled into the wild (rehabilitated?) – and now the paperback is about to storm into my (and your) life (complete with a foreword by the wonderfully generous Brian May). And I am still dancing – last night was one of the most exhausting two hours I have had – physically and emotionally draining and energising at the same time (thank you Dean). The class came at a good time, after a period of feeling almost disenchanted from that world, I was thrown right back into the maelstrom of moving bodies. So I was grinning to myself as I cycled home – and came across an obstacle to my progress.

And it dawned on me that it was that time of year again … and possibly because of the inclemency of recent weeks, it was all happening in a rush. As this guardian was clearly in place to ensure no unseemly interruptions to the fun happening cycle-path … because after stopping for a chat with him I came across this interesting combination.

I feel it justifies a caption … ideas please!

One of the reasons I warmed so much to toads was their attitude – not skittish, they turn to face an intruder with a quiet confidence born of 450 million years of evolution (largely passing it by). Like the hedgehog, they have been hammered by humanity – and are affected by many of the same problems. So this is the real reason for the post – now is the time of year when Gordon and his like travel everywhere with a bucket with which to help transport amorous toads across the roads – please pay attention when driving or cycling – if you see a toad in the road, have a look around, there may be many others. And they may be desperately trying to breach out barrier and make it to the water to help continue their presence in our lives. If you are not able to get out and about to help, make contact with Froglife – which, despite its name, is really quite accommodating to toads too – and see what else you can do to help.

Toads are wonderful creatures – help them as much as you can. Not just carrying them across the road, but in the way you manage your garden … because there is great magic in these animals … ask any child!

 

 

 

Wholehearted nature

I was sitting, sifting shingle through my fingers on the beach at Charmouth. This is not an unreasonable pastime – right on the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of Dorset, it is a prime spot for fossil-hunters. And I have found one of the best ammonites I have seen anywhere, museums included, along the shore.

The sky was grey, the wind stiff and the sea like pewter; when it was not curling into ‘crash and shhhhh’. And I was alone. The more sensible elements of my family had found a slightly more sheltered spot to hop across boulders. But it is here I find myself as close to meditating as I get. Absorbed in the quest for patterns; the regular curve of ridges that indicates an ammonite or the smooth needle of a belemnite. Time can fly by with my head down; eyes focussed on the myriad stones, evolving and revolving into sand. But this time I was distracted. Someone else was braving the elements with their spaniel. Read More →