I have been hard at work editing the audio I recorded during my research for The Beauty in the Beast … am just over half way through now … and it has been wonderful to be reminded just how much fun I had out with my ambassadors as they did their best to seduce me away from hedgehogs …

here is the page on which the audio files currently reside – have a listen and tell me what you think. The badger and bat interviews do not have the ‘intro’ which explains that they are perhaps better understood in conjunction with the book – will sort that out in time for the website – the new version of urchin.info – which is where this blog will be shifting. 

That will happen in time for the big event … an event that got just a little bit closer when I received an envelope containing … THE BOOK


it looks even better than I could have hoped … even the end-papers are all printed with cuteness … 

Official press launch is 7th May, but it is available from Amazon from the 26th April … not sure when the real shops will get their hands on it … but please, spread the word, book me for talks – I want to spread the message as widely as possible … and more of that message soon ….

This is a bit of a local entry – in that it will be of most interest to people who are not too far away from Oxford … but will also be of interest to people passionate about hedgehogs. 

Whenever I give talks I always say how much fun is to be had from getting really close to wild hedgehogs – how much of an insight into the animal can come from simply observing them in their natural habitat. And I also say, if you ever see a note from someone looking for volunteers to help them with some research – grab the opportunity in both hands and don’t let go …. 

And now there is a fantastic opportunity for people who are keen to commit themselves to some hard work – and in return get a chance to help us understand more about the reasons why hedgehog numbers in the UK are plummeting. 

The amazing WildCRU of Oxford University has recently taken on a researcher to help us answer these questions – in fact I was so tempted to apply to do the research myself, but as I am on the steering group that set the project up there was a clash of interests. The money for the project has come from the PTES and the BHPS.

Now that researcher has put out a call for volunteers

In fact I can save you the bother of following that link – all you need to know is here:


Dedicated volunteers are required from late March for a hedgehog study. This will form part of an exciting new study to look at hedgehog behaviour in relation to habitat in the rural landscape. Volunteers will have the unique opportunity to observe first-hand a variety of techniques being used including footprint tunnels, radio-tracking and macro-invertebrate surveys. Successful candidates will be required to assist in tracking hedgehogs at night at study sites in the Oxford area. Additionally there will be some day time work quantifying habitat at the study sites and surveying for macro-invertebrates.

The ideal candidates will be enthusiastic, robust, energetic and committed. They will be able to carry out fieldwork as part of a small team, through the night and early morning, outdoors and in all weather conditions. They will preferably be located, or be able to locate themselves in the Oxford area as accommodation, unfortunately, cannot be provided. Applicants must be available for a minimum of three specific weeks or longer from late March to October and preferably hold a driving licence.

Please email CV including two references to carly.easby@zoo.ox.ac.uk.


This is a wonderful opportunity … please spread the word … and you might even meet me out there – it is hard to resist the opportunity to get back out with my hedgehogs!


Okay – an experiment. Or a warning!

Things are going to be changing around here in the next month or so, my new website is being built to arrive in time for the launch of my new book, The Beauty in the Beast (published by Simon and Schuster at the end of April). And part of this new website will be a little additional bit to go with the book – I recorded all of the interviews with my wonderful animal advocates, and am now in the process of editing them into short pieces … so not only will you be able to read about these amazing people, you will be able to hear them too.

And here are two of them and I would really like to know what you think. Would this be something you would like to hear in addition to the book? Do you think it will help me to sell copies of the book? Please do let me know.

First – Gareth Morgan, the mid-Wales badgerman and

Second – Huma Pearce, Mostly Bats!

Oh – and to give you a little extra treat – here are a some pictures too

Luv Song

How could I not know that the great Benjamin Zephaniah had written a poem about a hedgehog? Why is this not major news?

Okay – it was actually published in 1994, so possibly I missed the press release – but even so it was a delightful surprise to start getting emails from friends telling me that I should get the latest issue of Resurgence. I love the magazine but have stopped reading it due to the volume of other material I get … so it was lovely to have the excuse to wallow in its pages once more. There is a very pretty little illustration with it as well which I copy here from Stu Jones’ website (and I will remove it once I get the answer I am seeking … there is a mission behind this posting …. )

But to the poem, it starts:

Luv Song

I am in luv wid a hedgehog

I’ve never felt this way before

I have luv fe dis hedgehog

An everyday I luv her more an more

And it goes on – and I love it as he loves the hedgehog … and I am wondering whether we can do something with this like we did a few posts ago with the amazing Turkish artist Elvan Alpay … with that post I asked if there was anyone who knew anyone who might know her and within 36 hours I was in email touch thanks to my brother in law … so … using the Kevin Bacon game principle that we are all interconnected … could we see how long it takes me to get in touch with Benjamin Zephaniah? I have been to his website and I can approach him through an agent, but I am sure that someone I know knows someone who knows someone who knows Benjamin! So spread the word … and see if it works again! Thanks.

First – thank you for the many people who took time to read through the last post and the many many comments. I was surprised at the depth of feeling and hope that I have not re-started any once forgotten problems.

Reading through what has been written, I think I have a better handle on my position. Or at least a way of expressing it:

  • No wild animals should ever be taken from the wild and kept as a pet.
  • I think that hedgehogs, of whatever species, belong in the wild.
  • Pet hedgehogs (African species, possibly hybrids, and possibly subject to 10 or 20 generations of captivity) are unable to be returned to the wild.
  • The welfare of any hedgehogs that are kept in captivity should be paramount.
  • Breeding hedgehogs for profit is likely to lead to a reduction of the quality of conditions in which hedgehogs are kept.
  • If you are going to look after a pet hedgehog then please use this position to help promote the really important issues surrounding the well-being of ‘real’ hedgehogs out in the wild.
  • ‘They are just so cute’ is NOT reason enough to keep an animal in captivity (these are not animated teddy-bears).
So – my first list … and I am expecting that there are people out there who might be able to add to this, or critique ideas that are there – so please do!
And with respect to that last point – here is a link to a video on youtube featuring a pet hedgehog – which is designed to increase awareness of and interest in African (pygmy) Hedgehogs as potential pets. The message is good – that hedgehogs do not digest lactose well … we know that – NO to bread and milk, whatever your parents might have said (or even the illustrious Podushkas) … though I have to say there are great alternatives that do not involve the exploitation of cows. But, the use of a cute hedgehog will only make the demand higher and the risk, I fear, is that this will tip the UK situation from one where a few (frequently delightfully odd) folk keep hedgehogs as pets to one where the horror of the ‘must have fad pet’ emerges. And however well those few people who do breed hedgehogs keep their animals, and however much they may abhor the idea of this becoming a craze; there would be no craze if it were not for the few good people keeping interest in the animal as a pet alive. So everyone who is involved with keeping the offspring of the original Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix algirius must consider that risk and consider their culpability.
I know it might come as a surprise, but my life does not revolve around hedgehogs – I do have other interests, and this blog is going to slowly morph to include far more British wildlife as my new book gets closer to publication. The Beauty in the Beast is, in my opinion, even more fun that A Prickly Affair …  there are still hedgehogs, but there are also many many more wonderful animals. So, get pre-ordering! (after you have commented on this blog, of course)


Author Daniel Allen invited me to a meeting with two pet hedgehog breeders in hope, I think, of a fight. He is writing a book about exotic pet keepers and their animals and has been on a peculiar tour of coatis, pythons, raccoons and ant-eaters in search of a bit of understanding as to what motivates the choice of these unlikely house-guests.

My position on pet hedgehogs is pretty well known. Having had a brilliantly eccentric time in Denver, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Hedgehog Show, I was well aware of what the pet hedgehog world can generate. And I have written about the sporadic attempts by exotic pet breeders in the UK to kick-start a fad-pet craze.

So I arrived at the strange venue, a sort of service station merged with a farm-shop, ready to defend my position – that there is no good reason to stimulate the interest in pet hedgehogs in the UK.

Daniel was already in place with Helen Gill and Louvain Greyfaulk. And they had been joined by a young woman from Cardiff, Tayer Witchell, who was there to pick up a baby hedgehog from Gill and hand over a young, furry and impossibly cute, rabbit.

Helen runs a pet shop in Cheshire – Simply Seahorses; Louvain had travelled up from Berkshire who describes herself as a house wife and hobby-breeder of pet hedgehogs. Between them all, they help run a web forum that assists in re-homing abandoned hedgehogs. And they had all descended on Birmingham for the fight arranged by Daniel.

How disappointed he must have been! I must have had a rare attack of diplomacy, and the three women were delightfully odd. And, in retrospect, I am seeing something odd in me too. I am getting older. I am (and there are some who would argue this is about time) developing a more nuanced attitude to previously straightforward black and white issues.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some definites in this debate. I think that any time wildlife is incorporated into the ‘free market’, wildlife suffers. Wild animals must not be taken in as pets.

But what of exotic pets? When does an exotic pet stop being a ‘wild’ animal? How many generations in captivity before they are no longer wild?

Another ‘definite’ position is to do with welfare. But I am wary of getting drawn into welfare issues before I have got the ‘rights’ sorted out in my mind. Is it right to keep an animal as a pet? I would say that yes, it can be, if the animal has an enriched existence. Clearly someone who mistreats animals, whether wild or domestic, is contemptible.

You can tell I did not study philosophy, this argument is not very clear yet. But what I am getting to is the problem of pet hedgehogs in the UK. My instinct is to say this is wrong. And I base that not on the impact on the African species that have been bred into glorious array patterns and colours, but on the impact on the one species I have studied and grown to love, the Western European Hedgehog. My worry is that, should the numpties win and pet hedgehogs become a must have fad pet craze, unscrupulous folk will try selling off our hedgehogs as pets. Additionally, there is the impact on wildlife hospitals, who are in the position of not being able to release these pet hedgehogs when they are brought in, and are also not in a position of wanting to support the pet industry by putting the hogs back into the system.

But – and this is where Helen and Lou came in – there are already many people out there with pet hedgehogs. How many? No one knows. But they are there and they need the best advice as to how to look after their hedgehogs. And they need a support network so that when they get bored, they can at least have the animals cared for and re-homed. And this is what they offer through their web-forum.

Before any answers, some photos … because there were two hedgehogs in attendance, and this is where there is a clear conflict again – they are, undeniably, cute.

My conflict? I am not keen to support something that could lead to problems for our wild hedgehogs. But, there are pet hedgehogs out there that could benefit from support. And the pet hedgehogs can, and are, used to help raise awareness and fund that help wild hedgehogs. Both Helen and Lou have raised funds for wildlife carers and have spread the word about our wonderful Hedgehog Street.

The result? No fights but lots of talk. I remain on a rather wobbly fence. I would be horrified if there was a craze of pet hedgehogs, it would be disastrous for their welfare and for the wild hedgehogs too. But I would also like to see pet hedgehogs that are already there being kept well, and, when possible, being used to help promote the cause of our wild hedgehogs.

So, now I turn to you lot! What do you think? Am I being naive in not railing against pet hedgehog breeders? Am I being harsh on exotic pet keepers? Give me your thoughts and I will see if I can focus mine a little better too!

ps – I got to cuddle one too:

I was visiting my mother this weekend and found myself browsing the bookshelf in the old playroom – and while much of the evidence of childish times has gone there was a block of books that stood out. Blue Peter Annuals from 1972 to 1980. My first book, their ninth, was a complete treat for me as a six year old. I thought the world of John Noakes and Shep.

Flicking through these Annuals I found I recognised so much – though why they insisted on putting Valerie Singleton in such odd period costumes escapes me. Blue Peter was a very important part of my childhood.

So, can you imagine the tremor of excitement when the wonderful folk at Firebird PR (who do so much to help the People’s Trust for Endangered Species) told me that Blue Peter might be interested in doing a hedgehog feature and that I might be involved?

I add the ‘mights’ as I am well aware of the slippery nature of Auntie Beeb – not everything that is promised comes to light … but the mights grew stronger and stronger. I secured some stunt hedgehogs from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue, near Reading (thanks Gill); Firebird found some willing school children and I ironed my shirt (this was getting serious).

To prime myself I watched an episode on i-player – oh my … how young …

But unfortunately the children have aged – the show is now aimed at 10 yrs + … so my wonderful duo of Mati and Pip  were too young to be part of the show.

And then last Friday it really happened. The Blue Peter team were great – the weather was toe-teasingly cold, I was very glad I pilfered my wife’s down jacket – and the presenter, Naomi Wilkinson – showed how that sort of work should be done. The interview segment was focussed on Hedgehog Street – how to make gardens hedgehog friendly and interconnected.

Then a wonderful thatcher called Kit stepped in to help Milly and Joe make a hedgehog house. Which then lead up to the finale – where we placed the hedgehog house under a big bush and I introduced Gill’s ‘stunt ‘hogs’ to the show.

photo from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue

These two hedgehogs had been in her care for a while and will be released when the weather is a little milder. We made the point that these were ‘stunt’ hogs and that hedgehogs should not be out in the day … people always complain, but I really think it is important that we seduce people with images of hedgehogs, and then, when they are drawn in, we can educate them.

As I placed the hedgehogs in front of the newly made hedgehog house I declared that, obviously, they would not go into it right away. At that, Rogan, one of the hedgehogs, took a look at me and decided to prove me wrong, by making a bee-line for the entrance tunnel and disappearing.

photo from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue

This resulted in general amazement – I was thrilled! And then, a little later, we took the back of the box and propped a night-vision camera in the opening, allowing them to film Rogan entering the hedgehog house from a different angle. What a very excellent stunt ‘hog.

I am so excited about this – the short film will be broadcast on Thursday 9th February at 1745 on CBBC, and repeated on Friday 10th February on BBC1 at 1630. I am excited because I will be on Blue Peter, obviously, but I am mainly excited because this has been a great opportunity to talk to a different audience about the importance of making your garden not just hedgehog friendly, but wildlife friendly. What is good for hedgehogs is good for so much else. And our project – run in conjunction with the PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation SocietyHedgehog Street – is such a great way to get people and their communities involved.

It is possible, however, that the main thrill has come from this …

I now have a Blue Peter badge … something that the six-year old me, looking at the wonderful John Noakes doing derring-do, dreamt of earning.


I put up the last post in a hope to track down the Turkish artist Elvan Alpay. I was not sure if it would work, the Kevin Bacon game is fun – degrees of separation – but can it have a practical application?

Within 24 hours I was in email contact with Elvan’s representative and within 48 hours I had secured an interview and permission to use her pictures in my (soon to be finished) book for Reaktion.

It turns out that my brother-in-law, Sean, knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who is in the art world in Turkey … not quite sure the real number of degrees of separation there were, but I am REALLY impressed. As I am by Sean’s company’s work … Smoke and Mirrors. I suggest a brief break from work and a rummage through the reels highlighting some of the amazing special effects he manages to create (biggest claim to fame, for me – he did the invisibility cloak in the first Harry Potter … I asked him if he still had it, but since putting it down has not been able to find it!)

Having a google alert set to hedgehog keeps it busy … I just need to learn how to wean out the ‘sonic’. But today there was something different. A Turkish artist, Elvan Alpay, has an exhibition launching in Istanbul – at Galeri Nev. And it features a remarkable image – which I have copied from the gallery website only in the interests of promoting her work, not stealing it …

The piece about her is here. She sounds fascinating – and this is the motive behind this blog … is there anyone out there who has a contact for Elvan Alpay? I have written to the gallery and spend an age googling … but no direct way to get in touch. I would be very interested in getting permission for using this image in the new book I am writing for Reakion. If you know of a way of getting in touch with her, please let me know. With many thanks.

What moves from the south of England to the north of Scotland at walking pace, and goes slower up hill? (answer at the end of this blog)

Forty years ago my mentor, Pat Morris, did a fascinating survey looking at the different times hedgehogs emerged from hibernation across the country. He showed what one would expect, that hedgehogs emerge from hibernation earlier in the warmer south west of England and later in the north of Scotland.

As you can see from this graph of his work, the evidence is clear. And like the good scientist he is, he has kept this idea bubbling away … because often scientists will find that data collected for one purpose can later be used to investigate another.

His survey measured the geographical impact on hibernation. But it allows us now to look at the temporal impact too – how emergence from hibernation has changed over time.

Why should we be interested in this?

Because the biggest environmental story of the moment could be revealed in the data – the impact that a warming climate has had on us so far might be hardly noticeable, we are so insulated from the outside world that we hardly notice the passing of the seasons! But for wildlife out in the wilds – well subtle changes in climate can manifest subtle changes in behaviour. And one measure is WHEN the hedgehogs emerge from hibernation – which we can measure most effectively not with specialists in lab coats or satellites – but with YOU – citizen science.

The survey is simple – all you need to know is HERE on the Hedgehog Street website. You can take part in a study of phenology! (phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate (taken from Wikipedia … which is down today in protest at web restricting legislation))

This is not the first use of citizen science to study the changes in the seasons, for example the Woodland Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also run Nature’s Calendar – but the hedgehog hibernation survey is going to be a wonderful addition to our knowledge of the changes afoot.

And why should we worry?

Well, before we can worry we really need to see what is happening … so PLEASE do the survey. However, there are concerns about how changes in the climate might affect the lot of the hedgehog. More extreme weather events, for example, could be bad. Warmer winters might NOT benefit hedgehogs either. Being disturbed by unexpected mildness during the winter can deplete important fat reserves within the hedgehog, reducing its chances of survival when it re-enters hibernation.

There is a chance that if there are shorter, milder winters, hedgehogs might also benefit from being able to feed longer before entering hibernation – putting on more weight and increasing their chances of survival. This would be particularly valuable for late born young (possibly second litters).

And if climate changes are so severe that in the end hedgehogs give up hibernation, should we worry?

Perhaps surprisingly, no. Hedgehogs do not NEED to hibernate – and when our European hedgehogs were exported to New Zealand in 1855 (a long story – read my book for more details!) the ones that made their home in the warmer north island hardly hibernate at all.

But to repeat – for now what we need is data – data which we can use to compare now with Pat’s first study 40 years ago. It will be fascinating to see what changes there have been – so please join up and fill in the survey.

And the answer to the question at the top? … Spring!