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 →

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 →

When I saw the first edition of EarthLines I had an immediate rush of excitement … the merging of nature and culture; the recognition that we are part of what we see, not separate. I loved the absence of adverts for crystal suppositories and quick-fix shamanic apps for your iPhone. But at the same time I loved the acceptance that there are things we cannot measure that are as important as the bald statistics on which I might argue a case about hedgehog survival. And I loved its local-ness. It is produced by a ludicrously small team (Sharon Blackie and David Knowles) up on the Isle of Lewis and the material I have read has been so much more familiar than the exotic output of the nearest competitor, Orion. Read More →

Uist Hedgehogs – lessons learnt in wildlife management

Ten years ago the media first picked up on this story – of how the hedgehogs that had been introduced to the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist in 1974 had spread northwards, across Benbecula and into North Uist. And how hedgehogs were the prime cause for the dramatic collapse in the breeding success of internationally important populations of wading birds. Read More →

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 →

Last night I watched Jeanette Winterson talking with Alan Yentob on BBC1 about her growing up with the woman who adopted her – and touching on her search for her biological mother. We have met a couple of times and talked at length about the strange multi-mothered world of the adopted. I never tire of sharing the strange stories with others who have been through the same process – everyone is different, yet everyone has the same hole – even if that hole is hidden away.

Ten years ago I was getting ready to go and visit my biological mother for the first time since I was 10 days old. After lunch today I am heading up to celebrate her 70th birthday. Read More →

Every Saturday my children make a mad dash for one particular stall at the East Oxford Farmers’ Market … and are aiming for one particular prize. The bread hedgehogs made by the Natural Bread Company. They are soft, tasty and eaten while they play and I shop for vegetables. I love the market – last week I supplied an impromptu lunch party with Brainy Bread from NBC (stunning stuff) along with a pot of tahini and veg topped with chilli heaven. The milk sold by the North Aston Dairy is the only milk I feel happy having in the house – as I know that they love their animals. The same goes for Willowbrook Farm’s eggs.

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What a weekend … again … and this time, not all about me! Two amazing experiences, both very different, but both deeply connected in essence – one a gathering of naturalists and artists in Stamford at the New Networks for Nature, the other, a flashmob of protesters at the British Museum. To be at both was a delight and a privilege – and made me consider the connections in new light.

I was introduced to the New Networks for Nature – and their event, Nature Matters – by the otterly wonderful (sorry) author, Miriam Darlington. Mim is the otter-woman from The Beauty in the Beast, and has written her own amazing book, Otter Country. The New Network describes itself as ‘a broad alliance of creators (including poets, authors, scientists, film makers, visual artists, environmentalists, musicians and composers) whose work draws strongly on the natural environment.’ And was formed from the dissatisfaction in the low political priority placed upon nature in the UK.

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