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.
As the PTES pointed out, these are rates of decline that are hitting wild tiger populations. And while they are starting from very different total numbers, still, the rate of decline is sending shock-waves through Britain’s conservation community. And out onto the pages of the press.
I wrote a piece for the Daily Mail which did something to dent my antipathy towards the journalism at the paper – the editor I was working with was very careful to check any re-wordings. At one point it became clear I would have less of a worry about getting it published it I set out to blame badgers … but I explained that the relationship is complex and that it would be wrong. They listened and the piece is pretty much okay.
Though the same cannot be said to the readers who commented online – apart from the odd insult – criticising my lack of knowledge of hedgehogs … what was apparent was the ‘blame someone else’ nature of the responses … so it was foxes or badgers – or birds of prey (have I not noticed the massive increase in these animals?) who were responsible. I was just waiting to have otters and Polish plumbers getting the blame too … I don’t think that has happened yet!
Which is more than can be said for the Daily Express who just made stuff up! For example, I did not say ‘They are heading for extinction.’ In fact I am fairly sure I said that they were not heading for imminent extinction. Which, I suppose, could be misunderstood. And apparently I follow them by ‘attaching little transmitters to their legs’ …
I have developed a new-found respect for Sir John Lister-Kaye who, writing in the Sunday Telegraph of February 3rd, confesses an act of justifiable violence (and this is coming from the person who helped make a film for the Quakers on nonviolent protest) …
‘Back when I was young, wild and given to sudden flights of impulsiveness, I was driving home one summer evening behind a man on a motorbike. Up ahead I saw a hedgehog enter the road. The motorbike swerved over in an intentional arc and squashed the hedgehog flat. I was aghast. It seemed to me to be an unacceptable act of gratuitous violence against an innocent beast. So I followed him for 10 miles out of my way with the intention of telling him what I thought of him. At last he pulled up outside a pub and parked his bike. By then my anger had overflowed. I drew up beside him and, just as he lifted off his helmet, I leapt out and punched him roundly on the nose. “That’s for the hedgehog,” I shouted, jumped into my car and drove away. I’m not proud of that assault but, as my anger subsided, I experienced a cheering flush of satisfaction.’
Country Life have a very particular slant on wildlife matters, and I feared their piece from 6th February would be rather unwelcome as it began with a report from The Keeper’s Book describing the depredations our little urchin can cause in the nests of pheasants. That was from 1904 and perhaps we have relaxed a little. After all, with some 35 million alien birds being released into the wild each year for a few people to kill, there are probably enough to go around (and the rest strip hedgerows of insect and reptile life). But again, the piece redeemed itself and turned into a great rallying cry for Hedgehog Street and agri-environment schemes. Though I do take issue with blaming hedgehogs for spreading ringworm to the ears of dogs – by walking through the undergrowth and leaving a trail of spores!
The Guardian ran a piece and allowed me to disappear off into my own little world arguing for the importance of the hedgehog and getting my favourite quote into the press again, from Stephen Jay Gould, ‘We will not fight to save what we do not love.’ The Guardian also surpassed other media by using graphs!
Aside from print media, I have grabbed a moment of fame on BBC Oxford’s TV news,
and between us, we have covered a whole bunch of local radio stations. And there is a European radio station interviewing me next week.
It is vital that we get people alerted to the plight of the hedgehog – and we are very lucky to be working with an animal that has such wide-ranging appeal. And while there may be people with passions for different beasts feeling a little left out, the good news is that on the whole what is good for hedgehogs is good for so much else out in the wilds or creeping through the shrubberies of our garden. So sign up as a Hedgehog Champion – at the Hedgehog Street website and join in trying to create a real and important change.