We are all stardust – every atom of every molecule that makes up our bodies comes from a dead star (apart from the hydrogen and helium that are the result of solar fusion). It is just that some people have more starry stardust than the rest of us.

As a campaigner I do like to think that our issues should achieve public and political attention on their merits – that the importance of the subjects should be enough. But that is naive. We always need more; we need luck, certainly, but we also need a little bit of the magic that comes with stardust.

And that is what was happening today in Portcullis House in London. This is the building that houses the offices many MPs and their staff, and it is also has the room that saw the launch of a new campaign to help hedgehogs – Amazing Grace. This is the latest part of the work started by Brian May and Anne Brummer’s  Save Me Trust, which has, until now, focussed on badgers and foxes.

I have been campaigning to help hedgehogs for years. Working with the BHPS and PTES we have the very successful Hedgehog Street campaign that now has nearly 40,000 households signed up as Hedgehog Champions. But despite that, it would be a push for us to get hold of a room in the centre of the parliamentary world and pull in a series of MPs of all different political persuasions.

Many were avowedly keen fans of the hedgehog – but it was the chance to see Brian May perform the song Amazing Grace with the wonderful Kerry Ellis.

Brian May and Kerry Ellis

And also a chance to get good publicity being photographed with someone generous with the stardust.

Oliver Colville, Brian May and Kerry Ellis

It was Oliver Colvile (above) who started getting parliamentary attention for the hedgehog. And there was a good show from the Tories. But it was the SNP who were out in force – here are a couple I snapped – Patrick Grady and Patricia Gibson.

Patrick Grady

Patricia Gibson

 

We know who supported this campaign and we know who came to share in the stardust – so lets hope that they live up to the promise they have made to help hedgehogs – and to recognise that we will NOT tolerate the plight of the hedgehogs being used as a weapon with which to beat badgers … as I have written before, this is a complicated ecological relationship.

I almost forgot to add – there was also awesome cake:

Hedgehog Cake

Many thanks to Brian and Kerry and all the wonderful people at Save Me who made this happen – it is lovely to get a sprinkle of that dust too!

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.

Why do oil companies fund the arts?

Is it because the oil companies are massively generous? Or is it because the oil companies see it as an investment … and if so, what are they getting in return?

These are important questions. Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to be alerted to occasional ‘interventions’ at oil sponsored events by ‘artivists’ – art-activists – who have taken the theme of the performance or exhibition and turned it into a critical piece of performance themselves.

The first target I heard about was the campaign against the sponsorship of the large Shakespeare festival by BP – this lead to some delightfully crafted performances performed on stage – always before the play started – and often met with a warm response from the audience. The RSC has dropped the oil money.

In Tate Britain Lady Macbeth came to life in a beautiful impromptu performance – with disturbing revelations about the role of BP – ‘Is this a logo I see before me?

Lady Macbeth at Tate Britain

Then I got to photograph two Viking interventions at the British Museum – they even managed to get a 10m longship in, despite there being enormous security (and Thor being arrested!).

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Given all this attention it was obviously going to be impossible to get an oil rig into the museum – wasn’t it? No!

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Tate Modern has not been immune to the attention of protesters disturbed at the use of art to greenwash the image of BP. I was lucky enough to happen upon a beautiful scene as Malevich’s Black Square came to life.

Malevich Black Square

And when Tate dropped BP money – I was there at the party too.

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Working with art-activists is such a pleasure. The work is thought through, nonviolent and gently confrontational. It is work that has generated great results too – but absolutely no complacency. Only last night I got to go and see the latest intervention as three actors took to the stage before Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra was due to begin a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet … and thanks to the delay caused by conductor Valery Gergiev’s rehearsal over-running, the audience thought, for a short while, that they were officially part of the show … though the balcony scene featured ‘Ramira and Juliet’, a gentle dig at Putin’s homophobia (its not a phobia, just nastiness). Again, the use of the arts to try and gloss over the murkiness of the oil industry was not allowed to happen.

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The amount of money the oil industry gives to the arts is disproportionately small compared to the exposure they receive. While investment from central government is stifled, it is easy to see why the arts would turn to the easy money – but there is a great cost attached. There is a moral cost that will continue to be illuminated by courageous and creative art activists. The money comes stained with the blood of generations gone and yet to come. Dirty money has no place in sponsoring great work.

 

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 …