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!

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

 

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!

 

 

 

On Friday I got a ‘google alert’ (I get my ego massaged (occasionally) by this wonderful device that I have set to my name) telling me I had been mentioned in the Church Times. It was referring to my performance the previous weekend at the Greenbelt festival. I had been concerned about talking to a crowd of evangelical Christians, that is not my usual audience. And at 5 minutes to show time, when I was already plugged in to my ‘Madonna mic’ (that is what the technician’s there called it …), this was my audience:

What the organisers had not told me was that the doors were shut and, as I returned from a breath of fresh air (and a thought about running away) a stream of people flooded into the room … 255 in total (no, I was not bored and counting during my talk, they had someone on the door with a clicker!)

But back to the review, “Warwick believes that any creature can be a gateway to the love of nature. Meeting a bird or animal close at hand, you gain a precious glimpse of wildness. It’s an almost mystical experience…” I really enjoyed Greenbelt and have asked to come back next year … it is not often you get to preach hedgehog (and other lovely animals) to such a crowd.

Next up on Friday I was asked to pen a quick note for Meet the Species – a final component of the amazing project that also manages the Bristol Festival of Nature – The Bristol Natural History Consortium. So here is that piece – and, to my surprise, I found that they published it with a video of me talking at the Wilderness Festival – a spontaneous (and rather noisy) show ably assisted by the remarkable Amalie.

And on Friday I was also asked if I would help Anne Brummer from the Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue with Wildlife Rocks. I had originally been asked to do a hedgehog talk at this event inspired by Brian May (and you can read more about him in my Olympic Blog) – but then she asked if I would step in and do a little compering … now I was given advice by an experienced wildlife/media person … ‘never say no’ … so I said yes, of course, I would love to … Anne was pleased and I put the phone down thinking ‘oh *&^^$&*’ … in less than 24 hours I would have to learn a new skill. Thankfully my neighbour is the absurdly talented Steve Larkin, stand-up poet, musician and compere beyond compare.

As I arrived at Guildford Cathedral I saw Brian May walking with Anne around the stalls. She beckoned me over and asked me to join the small crowd as she wanted to explain a little more of what was planned for the day – turns out I was not to ‘help’ with the compering but to DO IT – oh, and while there would be the usual thanks and welcomings to do, sometimes there would be a bit of time to fill in – as people got themselves set up … and there were around 24 separate events … so, no challenge there then!

Walking with them was Gavin Grant, CEO of the RSPCA. He impressed me enormously, walking straight over to the Hunt Sabs stall and chatting with them – he is obviously not frightened of the more activist sides of the animal world. And then his talk inside was a brilliant attack on many key issues – including the planned culling of badgers and, delightfully, the fact that the RSPCA is not just taking individual huntsmen to court for breaking the law, but also the hunt itself …and the hunt in question just happens to be the one that David Cameron loves to play with, the Heythrop Hunt. And when they win (well, lets hope) they will seek to rehome the horses and hounds, and sell off the buildings.

So my job was to bounce onto stage, say thank you (often to the amazing YEM Youth Theatre) and then chat to the crowd in the Cathedral for up to ten minutes … I think I managed to hold it together, it was a fantastic experience to have to think on my feet so fast – and also to be meeting the artist David Shepherd, Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation and the actor Peter Egans among many other. Perhaps the highlight, though, was rather predictable … when Brian May took to the stage with Kerry Ellis to perform to an absolutely packed cathedral.

I had forgotten about how famous Brian May is … and after the event he was sitting in an outside tent meeting and greeting and the queue was epic. An hour later his ‘people’ said enough was enough (he was looking exhausted) – but he still had time to help me with a publicity shot to help promote The Beauty in the Beast.

What a wonderful day – I really hope that they are able to hold another event next year, and then I might get to see some of what was going on! Though it was a rather fun challenge introducing each guest and trying to get a mention of hedgehogs and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society each time!

And as if that was not all enough, last night Countryfile on BBC 1 showed the piece they filmed with me a couple of weeks ago about Hedgehog Street. I was a little nervous – I was filmed for Blue Peter a while back and they ended up using less than one sentence. But this time it was great, the programme opened with the hedgehog piece and we got to talk about the major concerns we have for hedgehogs as well as the potential solutions.

To add icing to the cake, they also covered Ivan Wright, the solitary bee man from my book!

You can have a look at the programme for the next 6 days on iPlayer: Countryfile hedgehog programme

And because I like an easy life … I am off to the woods with the children now, then dancing and tomorrow – off to a conference all about hedges …

One of the least talked about aspects of the all-consuming Olympics has been the apparent absence of hedgehogs. This is not to say that the Olympics were without charm. The opening ceremony revealed a double-act as wonderful as Morecambe and Wise – the Rattle and Bean show. And the when Mary Poppins rescued the NHS from the Tories I was giddy with delight (though I think I had drunk a glass of cider by then).

The radiance of Mo’s smile and lightening Bolt’s relaxed chatting up of a track attendant – along with all the tears from people who can do so much more than I could ever dream – the bits I saw were fun. But, here was the Olympics taking place in the home of the hedgehog (I know there are hedgehogs all over Europe, Asia and Africa, but we pay more attention to them) and this most iconic of species was significantly missing.

In fact I had given up any hope of seeing evidence of a hedgehog when I settled down to catch some of the closing ceremony. What a ceremony, as different to the clever opening as possible. Many of the most interesting contributors were on tape, and while it was great to have a little Python, the opportunity to do a Boyle and use the song to attack the Romans was missed, and, as Chris TT wrote in his searing critique – while the opening ceremony embraced every culture, here the ‘exotic’ drummers were clearly ‘different’.

Then there was a little bit of fun, I have always had a soft spot for Queen – and Brian May in particular. His unflashy playing of the guitar carries a great deal of heart – and what a lot of noise one man can make. Then as some woman joined him on stage I noticed something on the shoulders of his coat. On his left, a picture of a badger, and on the right, a fox.

Because there is more to May than brilliance at the guitar (and a PhD in Astrophysics) – he also cares about wildlife. Cares? That is not strong enough. He has a deep love of the natural world with which I can relate and he is using his considerable pulling power to raise awareness of the threats these wonderful animals face. He has set up a campaigning organisation ‘Save Me’ which has been vocal in its opposition to the badger cull – hence the badger on his sleeve. And he is also rallying support to oppose a return to fox hunting, something that many of the Tories would love.

Bri’s highly visible protest (watched by an estimated 26 million people in the UK) has raised a storm of protest in the farming press. But … still no hedgehog?

Then there was a shot from the back as he played – there was another image on his jacket – but we never got a good look at it. Perhaps it was just decoration? But that seemed unlikely given the clear intent of the other images.

I scoured the internet for photographs to see if I could get a clear view – in the end it was Bri’s charity that supplied the answer. The image contained a Buzzard, two herons, an adder and … a hedgehog. Brian May, you are truly wonderful.

If that was not enough hedgehog-excitement for one night, as the great multi-flamed cauldron began to open out as part of the final ritual it dawned on me, there it was, one great big fiery hedgehog. It had been there, curled up, all along. And I had not been drinking either!