A perfect state of meditative bliss

To be honest I am not one for meditation. I find being still rather physically uncomfortable so have always been put off the practice. But I hear the benefits from the many friends who do – and have occasionally found myself in that ‘thoughtless’ state that is such a delight. When I was out at sea in looking for dolphins with the CRRU I found myself melting into the act of observation, lulled by the rocking movement and driven by the single-minded focus of looking for the change in the sea that signalled an animal.

I was reminded of that yesterday, but in a different setting. Walking along the beach at Charmouth, on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset – head down, looking for fossils. My children had been briefly engaged, but had vanished off into their own world of fantasy. I was in a place of peace. The sun warmed the air as it shifted with just enough vigour to remove cobwebs. The sea filled the space with the perfectly soothing organic white noise of waves on shingle. And my eyes were drawn to the ground.

The chaos of stones, lentil to cricket ball in size, varied beyond count in denomination – hid treasure. I have always had a passion for finding fossils. I am no expert – my passion has not shifted into detailed research, I just love the hunt. My parents had a new load of gravel added to their drive when I was young – and I was transfixed by the broken memories the stone contained. Imprints of shells – probably winkle-like animals – could be found if you looked hard enough.

I have never got into smashing up rocks in the hope of finding something amazing inside – I prefer to just look – to rely upon chance. That is how I found the best fossil – an ammonite, as most are on Charmouth. Early one morning – when the children were much smaller and prone to a lack of sensitivity when it came to adults’ need for sleep – I left them with my wife at her mother’s house and headed to the beach, just as the tide turned. Ahead of me were the professionals, head to toe in water proofs, armed with hammers, spades and buckets. I just had a tweed jacket and my eyes.

At first I thought it was a footprint from one of their boots, but the rhythm was not quite right so I stopped, looked and almost walked on – but hesitated, and found it to be the ridges of the most amazing fossil I have ever held. For the first time in around 190 million years this creature was back out in the world, pulled from a clay tomb.

Yesterday my finds were less remarkable but no less appealing – a belemnite and a pack of pyritised ammonites, alongside the smooth touchstones that help keep me sane, and it was the most relaxing time.

picture by Zoe Broughton

I returned to the melee of half-term better equipped, calmer and happier. So my message, go find a beach and spend a hour or so being washed by the waves of noise while searching for that subtle shift in rhythm that might just mark out some treasure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hedgehogs reclassified as birds?

I intend to put a cat amongst some pigeons, or at least a hedgehog amongst robins with this …

Recently I was with Hedgehog Street at the Women’s Institute Centennial gathering in Harrogate. We had a garden designed by the amazing Tracy Foster that proved to be a great draw to the crowds. As with the garden we did last year at Hampton Court, we were again trying to show how easy it is to have something ravishing and hedgehog-friendly.

I was there for two days – being nice to people all day long is exhausting work, but I managed it (I hope). I have some concerns about the event and while that is not the focus of his blog, I will vent a little now – I thought it a fascinating insight into how little the people who ran the event thought of their membership. I have been all over the country talking to WI groups and they are a dynamic and feisty lot. This event was a glorified shopping trip – three soulless warehouses with stalls selling tat – and the women had to pay a large amount just to enter. If this had been set up as a celebration of the wonderful work of the WI with some shopping, fine, but it was clearly weighted the other way.

But to the real issue, for me. We at the Hedgehog Street stall were not the only wildlife charity on site …

and without wanting to sound like a pervert … can you tell who it is yet? How about this shot of the stall?

Maybe this magnificent representation of the hedgehog will give the game away …

The RSPB have noticed that the hedgehog is very attractive (far more interesting than all those birds, in my humble estimation) and have started to use it mercilessly in their advertising. I have had conversations with people that are very much ‘live and let live’, that all the money is going to help nature – and that we should not be seen as bickering and jealous as it demeans the conservation movement.

Well, balls to that. I know the rationale, I know the line they spin about ‘giving nature a home’ being for all wildlife, not just birds – but it comes down to economics. The RSPB would not be doing this unless they thought it was going to make them money. And that comes at a cost. We had people come up to the Hedgehog Street stall and say that they had already ‘given to help the hedgehogs’. If there is a person with £5 and they want to give it to help hedgehogs – and they see an RSPB stall, they will give it there and that will be £5 that does not make it to the BHPS and the PTES. That is not to say the RSPB is not doing good work, I am sure they are. But we are the ones funding the research into hedgehogs. We are the ones who working out ways to help hedgehogs in rural and suburban environments and we are the ones that are going to continue working on hedgehogs after the birders advertising campaign is done. And we are the ones who are losing out on those five pound notes.

So what is to be done? Should the RSPB lobby for the hedgehog to be reclassified as a bird? Should the BHPS start to raise money by using images of Hen Harriers, Hawfinches and Hawks? Or perhaps the RSPB could consider using some of its vast reserves to help fund our research? It would be good to hear what you think.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Oxford Festival of Nature

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
  • Hugh Warwick holding a toad

  • Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer with a particular fondness for hedgehogs. His first book, A Prickly Affair, remains the only book to have accolades from both Jeanette Winterson and Ann Widdecombe on the cover. The Beauty in the Beast is published in May 2012 and takes him on a journey in search of other animals. And in November 2012 he returns to hedgehogs with a book about the iconography of the animal.

  • Archives

  • Subscribe to blog

    Sign up to receive email notifications of new postings.

    Enter your email address: