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!

I was only half-joking when I wrote in the Guardian last week that we should judge our politicians on their relationship to hedgehogs. It should be a measure of all people who aim to set themselves in authority to us, how they view the natural world. It does not have to be a passion for hedgehogs, though obviously that helps in terms of getting my vote, but it has to be an awareness, a concern – oh, here I go again, beating around the bush – a love for the natural world.

As I have written before, it is absurd in the extreme to love money above life – but that is the class of people who govern us now.

The measure of a person – there is one celebrity I met last year who has just rocketed in my opinion. Already I was a fan of the very lovely actor, John Hurt when I met him at the Royal Horticultural Show at Hampton Court and asked him to come to our Hedgehog Street garden (which won loads of awards!).

But he has just surpassed himself. Because there is another measure I think just as important – and that is one attitude towards nuclear weapons. The lust for megadeath that drives the supporters of a weapon system that in no way makes any sense at all still lives in the heart of many in power. For most, though, the issue has slipped from the agenda – there are other pressing issues of environmental and social justice to consider.

Those that still care enough to take action have been out this morning – shutting down the Atomic Weapons Establishment factory at Burghfield.

The campaign, Action AWE, has some very notable supporters including Ken Loach and the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool – but who is at the top of the list? Our very own hedgehog-loving John Hurt.

Oh – and which political party is the only one that is serious about tackling the silly waste of money represented in this extreme example of the military-industrial complex? The Greens of course. They love hedgehogs and hate nuclear weapons. Some decisions are complicated, but not the choice of party we would want. And an indication that the establishment is getting concerned about the possibility we in the UK might see more sense came this morning when US army chief General Odierno said we are not spending enough making things to kill people. Love life, love hedgehogs, vote green. Simple.

Many years ago I used to have lots of fun making radio packages for various programmes on BBC Radio 4 – in particular a programme called The Afternoon Shift which let me loose into the strangest worlds. I did a detailed look at the ancient sport of ‘Gut Barging’ for example, and an anthropological investigation into why men feel awkward wearing skirts. And then last night, a blast from the past as a friend – who is making a documentary all about the Newbury By-Pass protest of the mid 90s – sent me this mad piece I did looking at the pirate radio station called Tree FM that used to keep up the spirits of the hardy souls in the trees:

Hugh Warwick BBC Radio4 TreeFM Newbury 1996

I found the time spent at the Newbury protest very special. I was always a light-weight – I traveled down from Oxford rather than join the really dedicated folk who lived in the trees. But I did manage to make a few programmes for the BBC as well as lend my body to the general obstruction of the destruction. Looking back at the photos I do wish I had been braver/hardier …

 

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!

 

What an extraordinary few days I have had. Last year I went to see Robin Ince‘s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People and came away thinking – ‘I want to do that’. It is a mixture of humour and music – not a god-bashathon, just a celebration of the alternative things that make this a world of wonder and delight. My only criticism was the clear absence of references to hedgehogs, so I wrote to Robin Ince and told him that he needed hedgehogs in the show. He wrote back saying, ‘yes, we probably do’.

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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!

The hedgehogs have done it! They have been overwhelmingly voted Britain’s National Species.

In June the BBC Wildlife Magazine announced it was seeking a wildlife icon as part of the amazing publication’s 50th birthday celebrations. Over 9,000 people took part with a range of our most iconic wildlife to choose from.

I obviously hoped the hedgehog would win. I have been studying hedgehogs on and off for the last 30 years, have written two books about them and work with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species in trying to bring a halt to the terrifying population decline.

An article by nature writer extraordinaire Patrick Barkham accompanied the launch of the poll. He made the very good point that the UK is bereft! If you use your computer to search for ‘country’ and ‘identity’ for many other lands you get clear answers – kangaroos in Australia and kiwis in New Zealand for example. But for animal-loving Britain? There has been no distinct answer. Until now.

And it was a very clear victory … the next nearest species was the badger. Interesting to have these two creatures, already wrapped up in a complicated ecological conundrum whereby the presence of badgers tends to augur poorly for the presence of hedgehogs, side by side in the nation’s affections. Here are the figures:

1 Hedgehog championed by: British Hedgehog Preservation Society, votes: 3,849

2 Badger championed by: Badger Trust, votes: 2,157

3 Oak tree championed by: Woodland Trust, votes: 950

4 Red squirrel championed by: Red Squirrel Survival Trust, votes: 730

5 Robin championed by: RSPB, votes: 626

6 Otter championed by: Wildlife Trusts, votes: 270

7 Bluebell championed by: Plantlife, votes: 198

8 Water vole championed by: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, votes: 150

9 Swallow championed by: BTO, votes: 108

10 Ladybird championed by: Buglife, votes: 70

I wonder what your thoughts are on this … where would your vote had gone? Would it have been to a species not on the list?

A question I am asked many times is brought up again by this poll – why do we care so much about the hedgehog? We cannot put it all at the feet of Beatrix Potter – even if she did mark a point of change for how hedgehogs were referred to in stories. Prior to Mrs Tiggy-Winkle they tended to be creatures of mystery, or portent. I think it is tied in to how our lives have changed.

We have been so removed from wildlife that my current obsession with a robin I have tamed to feed from my hand

(more on this soon) marks me out as strange. But we used to live much closer to the wild – and before that, we were of the wild. For most people there is limited opportunity for direct contact with nature. Maybe watching David Attenborough and putting out some nuts for birds is as far as it goes. And this is a shame.

The hedgehog, by dint of its behaviour, allows us to get close to a genuinely wild animal, and this is important. It is something I advocate – in fact I am trying to win £1000 from Lush (the cosmetics company) at the Green Gathering this weekend in order to help fund my project of exciting primary school children into a great love of nature by reminding them that there are still hedgehogs out there to be seen.

It is a win-win situation. We get a thrill of nature – which is good for us – and this in turn shifts us from being passive consumers of wildlife images to activists who want to help save what we have left. The hedgehog is the most perfect icon – let us embrace the spiny beast (carefully) and let us make sure that there are hedgehogs to thrill generations to come.

 

 

Today I had a horrible reminder of a story that I tried to covered back in 1995. I had been in Namibia looking into the trade in pangolin scales. Pangolins are a scaly anteater – in south east Asia they are largely arboreal but in southern Africa there is a different species, the Ground pangolin (Manis temminckii). The scales of the Ground pangolin are in great demand for the Traditional Chinese Medicine and muti trades. And as there are so few left in Asia, attention has been turned on the African species.

The scales of the pangolin are made from a rather amazing and quite magical substance, so it is no wonder that people are keen to get hold of it, because I just cannot imagine where else they could find this stuff … keratin … really – the worry at the global shortage of keratin has people biting their finger nails in fear of what might happen if they could never get a hit of that complex fibrous protein again.

But this short blog is not about the pangolins – fascinating and cute as they are. It was sparked by a video clip that appeared on the Guardian website today. And now a warning – this is a horrible clip.

The film of seal cubs being clubbed to death was shot in 2011 but withheld until now as the campaigners at Earthrace Conservation wanted to see whether the proof of what was happening would be enough to persuade the authorities in Namibia to call a halt to the controversial killing. They also wanted to leave time to allow those brave people who managed to film the cull to move far from harms way.

My personal interest was sparked when, in 1995, I visited the Cape fur seal at Cape Cross. It is a wonderful opportunity to get close to a mass of wildlife – you pay your money and you get to walk along a path right beside the basking seals. Here is a photograph I took on that walk – frustratingly the original is not on this computer so I have had to borrow my image from a library that sells images for me:

Now, I am given to occasionally push my luck and was there well aware of the cull that takes place – early in the morning, before the tourists arrive, teams of men smash the skulls of seal cubs and load them into trucks, washing the bloodstains away to keep the visitors happy. So I snooped, a little. Now, I was there with a very old, manual camera, and most of the photographs I got were not very good. But these two, again very gruesome, capture the horror of what I found – the processing factory – there was a rendering plant for the fat – and the skin was dried and sold.

I was chased out after taking these pictures, camera hidden I played the part of the lost tourist.

The arguments for the cull are as self-serving and ecologically illiterate as our very own government’s desire to kill badgers to assist the dairy industry. The cull of seals will not help the fisheries – that is not how ecology works. And it has been shown clearly that the amount of money made from tourists coming to watch the wildlife spectacle far outweighs that made from seal oil and fur.

Namibia was an amazing country to visit, full of vigour and life, even in the depths of the enormous deserts. But it is shamed by the perpetuation of the seal hunt. I am not sure what is the best way forward, there are campaign groups who are far more experienced than me, but I feel if we were to express our resolve to the Namibia embassies around the world of our intention to boycott the country until they halt the killing, that would be a start.

Sorry for the horrible stories, I will write something much happier soon, I promise.

 

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