hedgehog picture

Tuesday night was interesting. I had been invited to talk to a public meeting organised by Devon and Cornwall Against the Badger Cull – about hedgehogs.

I was, to be honest, apprehensive. I know that some badger lovers can be quite defensive about their beasts. And while I have been very clear – in The Beauty in the Beast – of my love for brock (nearly got a tattoo of one) – I have also had to contradict many badger-fans who think that they would never eat a hedgehog.

My companions on the panel were Dr Chris Cheeseman (ecologist and expert on bTB) and Dr Mark Jones (vet working with the Born Free Foundation). I was to speak last – following their detailed look at the failings in the management of this disease – and deal with a question that is thrust at campaigners many times – ‘what about the badgers eating all the hedgehogs?’

One of the reasons that this annoys me is that it is clearly nothing to do with the badger cull. A cull that was set up to protect wildlife would need an entirely different research base on which to justify it. The call to protect hedgehogs is often coming from people who have only recently discovered how much they love them (because they can be used to beat up badgers) – it is a deeply cynical move.

The cull is supposed to be helping control the spread of bovine tuberculosis from badgers to cattle. From the words of both Chris and Mark it is clearly doing nothing of the sort. The highly respected and extremely detailed Randomised Badger Control Trial showed how, with an exacting set of protocols, it was possible to gain a 12-16% reduction in the incidence of bTB in cattle over 9 years (5 years of culling, 4 years of extra surveying) if badgers were killed at a rate of 70% in the clearly identified zone.

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Culling in a different way will produce different results and the scientists are sure that what is happening now will generate far less in the way of benefit to farmers and cattle. In fact it is quite possible, probable even, that the current action will be making matters worse as the perturbation effect will cause infected animals to move far greater distances.

The evidence is clear, the cull, as it is being done now, will not benefit farmers or cattle. Yet despite the case being put with thoroughness, the farmers in the room would not hear it … despite seeming to acknowledge many of the most important facts.

Two things were clarified for me during this discussion. First – the only way to survive the extremely hard work of farming is to be bloody stubborn – to be as obstinate as the most recalcitrant bull. Farmers tend to be friends with farmers, so the stubbornness rarely gets challenged. The conservative view of the world this engenders does not react well to outsiders coming in and trying to change how things are done. Therefore it is up to us, critics of the cull and elements of industrial agriculture, to find better ways of communicating.

The second point I realised is that when we get hung-up and defensive about the messiness of ecology we quickly lose focus. Yes – badgers do have a population level impact on hedgehogs. But the cull has NOTHING to do with hedgehogs – the cull, in its current form, is nothing more than a carrot being offered to the farming community.

If we want to see more hedgehogs in this country there are ways we can make it happen without resorting to the gun. For example, where there is Higher Level Stewardship of the land (part of the Agri-Environment Scheme), there are more hedgehogs. The more of this ecologically aware farming that goes on, the more food there is in the environment for both badgers and hedgehogs and the greater complexity there is in the landscape.

Lets not scapegoat the badger for our own failings – and remember, it is ours – we are the people (apart from my vegan friends) who demand cheap food and are unwilling to pay the real price at the till. If we don’t pay a decent price for our food there will be payment taken from the environment – and if we don’t want that, we need to change the way we shop.

 

It is here again – and I have been reminded of the risk of freelance life – saying YES to too much! But the Oxford Festival of Nature is the perfect opportunity to further my plans for global domination – or at least converting people from ‘likers’ to ‘lovers’ – I want to drag people from couches and out into the woods – no more clean and remote observation of other people in the wild, but a down and dirty shared experience.

There are two talks – and I am interested to see who wins … we have BBOWT organising an event at the North Oxford Community Centre on Thursday 4th June where I will be talking about the wildlife eccentrics I have met – the wonderful encounters that made up the stories in The Beauty in the Beast. Of course I am merely observing the eccentrics being quite normal myself!

And on Wednesday 10th June, Waterstones have got me in to talk about hedgehogs – now they have not got me on a website yet, but there is a poster!

Which will get most people along?

While both of these talks are a great way for me to enthuse people, it is the real connection on Saturday 13th June at the Natural History Museum that gets me most excited … it might seem like I am just getting kids to stroke a piece of taxidermy and make some clay hedgehogs – but those moments of connection can really make a difference. I have just been at London’s Natural History Museum doing a day of talking – and the number of times it was the children who were leading the parents into a greater connection with nature was heart-warming. They were willing to come and touch my stuffed hedgehog, find out what the spines are made from and how many there are.

Some of my favourite results from previous festivals of nature have come weeks and months later, when I have met families again, by chance, and the children have told me about the fun they had and how they still have the hedgehog they made. These moments are some of the very best wildlife moments I get … who needs to be in a sweaty landrover tracking lions in Africa? Come and find a real wild life on your doorstep.

Come and see a talk or meet me and make a hedgehog!

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.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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 →

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 →

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 →

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.

Read More →

There are few people who have the capacity to antagonise me as much as Jeremy Clarkson … and it was with real delight that I happened upon him receiving a custard pie in the face a few years ago … 

Fortunately I had my camera ready. So it was with very mixed feelings I found that he was to be presenting Have I Got News For You on BBC 1. They were going to be featuring the newsletter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in the ‘missing words’ round – but how would our wonderful creature fare at the hands of this objectionable buffoon?

The iPlayer copy of the show will not be up for ever, so have a look now … and if pressed for time, skip along to 25 minutes in – and find that not only did the hedgehogs get a good mention (along with Ann Widdecombe, who, coincidentally, I also caught on camera getting a custard pie in the face) 

Ann is a great champion of hedgehogs, the pie came 12 years ago following some rather unpleasant commentary she had given about asylum seekers. Having met her I have been impressed by her deep love of animals – and it would not be hard to imagine her donning a balaclava and heading off to the nearest abuser with ‘reconstruction’ in mind.

But that is an aside … one of the missing headline clips they used was from an article I had written! Which was essentially based on this blog from last year. “How can we get hedgehogs and whisky into the same thing?” I asked … with a blender, Clarkson retorted … I smiled, felt guilty about smiling, and then remembered his moment with the custard pie and felt better!