Spiny icon!

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.

 

 

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  1. [...] Hugh Warwick, an ecologist and author of a number of books on hedgehogs and who also speaks on behalf of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, was overjoyed. [...]

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  • 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.

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