April 2010


Just had a great morning at Vale Wildlife Rescue filming a taster dvd that a company is going to use to try and persuade the BBC (or anyone else who is interested) in commissioning us to head off to China in search of Hugh’s Hedgehog (and if you have not read my book (shame on you) then I will not spoil the surprise – but there genuinely is a species of hedgehog called hugh – Hemiechinus hughi to be precise.)

Vale have got an open day on Sunday 6th June. I was there last year and will be there again this year, giving a couple of talks and generally helping their fund-raising effort (I have been elevated to the status of Patron, which is very flattering).

And here are a few of the photos of my stunt hedgehog (well, as the observant of you will notice, two different stunt ‘hogs).

The post arrived early this morning (very unusual) – and with it a t-shirt I have been waiting for. A friend (thanks Jess) sent me a link to Shirt Woot – who have a very strange fashion business – they produce a brand-new t-shirt design every day – which are then subject to the pressures of the market – which in turn identifies the best.

Obviously this is not a perfect selection process as my new shirt does not make it on to the front page. In fact now I have a rummage through the site, I cannot find it … I might be the only person in the UK with this shirt … I should have bought more – I could sell them on at talks … I will never be the capitalist I was supposed to be.

And in case it is not clear – that is a mountainous hedgehog eating a bulldozer. It is an image that makes me very happy!

My little boy, Pip, got back from school full of excitement. They had been looking at mini-beasts and, apart from the slug that a little girl stamped on, it seems to have been a memorable morning. But then he told me about the ‘great big fat caterpillar’ – what does that turn into, I asked.

‘A hedgehog,’ Pip responded.

Now, remember the book, I pursued, The Very Hungry Caterpillar … what did that turn into – it had beautiful wings.

‘A hedgehog with wings,’ Pip concluded – and dashed outside.

I think he was teasing me (he is a canny four-year-old)! I hope so, otherwise my gentle introductions into the world of zoology have gone seriously wrong – time to start reading him A Prickly Affair at bed time I reckon!

This is just a quick note to reveal yet another attempt by the hedgehogs to help stave off planetary annihilation. It is not that long ago that the Big Issue carried on its front cover the bold claim ‘Save the Hedgehog, Save the World’. I had brazenly purloined that from Heroes – and feel that it is more important when attached to hedgehogs, not cheerleaders. My favourite bit about the cover was that the following was pushed over to the margins, to make way for me and the hedgehogs – ‘Obama and me, Desmond Tutu speaks’ –¬† I had managed to marginalise two of the most important people on the planet!

But now, even more serious, hedgehogs are back.

There is a plan by the current government to help maintain our standing in the world by buying large bombs. They want to replace the Trident nuclear missile system with something even snazzier. It is a bit like a poorly endowed middle aged man buying an expensive sports car – he sits in it thinking he is cool while everyone around him is thinking of a joke … what is the difference between a hedgehog and a Ferrari/Porsche/Range Rover etc etc …. the hedgehog has its pricks on the outside … boom boom (goes the trident replacement).

So, the UK is trying to maintain its geopolitical standing with go-faster stripes and the loud revving threats of – ‘don’t mess with me or I will drive me car very fast at you and kill you’ – because that is what would happen if we entered into a nuclear exchange – we would all die.

But it is not just about the absurdity of this stance – there is also the cost. Whether it is a sports car of a new nuclear missile system, these things don’t come cheap. And in the case of Trident, we are looking at ¬£97 billion pound. Banks and bombs – always money for banks and bombs … but what else could that money be spent on? A very interesting question, and one that Greenpeace has asked my dearly beloved to ask many many people – and feed the resulting films up onto a video wall … there is a great range of opinion – from a retired General (who thinks that troops could do with proper kit rather more than a very big bomb that they will not use) through to George Monbiot, George Marshall Alastair McGowan and a host of others who have very good ideas about how to spend that money. And me … I point out that just one millionth of that figure would help us to find an answer to the problem of declining hedgehog numbers in the UK and around the world – so by funding research into the complexities of life, rather than funding arms manufacturers to destroy life, the world would be a much better place. So, see what the hedgehog says on the video wall – and vote for your favourite … no pressure now!

It took until the night of the 20th April to see a hedgehog this year … partly due to me not being out wandering around, but partly, also, due to hedgehogs taking a little longer to emerge from hibernation this year.

I had been giving a lecture to the Devon Mammal Group in Exeter – a great crowd filled with interesting questions (and also eager to buy books, I like that a lot) – and went to stay with my old friend Kelvin Boot. I met him when he was the presenter of the Natural History Programme and I was but a menial researcher … back in 1993. He is a great naturalist and is full of stories about the wildlife in his patch of Devon as well as the wider world. Just now he is involved with ocean acidification – ‘the other CO2 problem’.

Not sure whether hedgehogs will be affected by this for a while, but their namesakes, sea urchins, will be affected. As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, so the amount absorbed by the sea also increases. This creates an increase in the acidity of the water – which makes it harder for organisms that require calcium carbonate (ie all the ones with shells and bones … which is a lot of them) to gather it from the water. An extreme version of this is to drop something rich in calcium carbonate into vinegar … it will dissolve. Now, the sea is not going to turn to vinegar, but the changes will affect all marine life – and in turn, all life on the planet.

There are hard-nosed scientists out there who fear that this is a more serious problem than global warming/climate change. And some of them fear that it is already too late to change the course we have set.

Kelvin helped a school make this movie about the problem:

The Other CO2 Problem

now that is homework I would like to have received.

And while out with Kelvin yesterday, we got to see Little Egrets and hear their courtship noises – a little like a dunk man trying to impersonate a turkey … not the sort of think one would expect from an elegant white bird. The RSPB have more info and a sound clip here.

Just to add to the great day, on the way back from the estuary where we had been watching the egrets, a stoat dashed across the road.

Now I need a hedgehog to visit my garden, it is only fair really!

My first, and last, real job was with Natural History Radio in Bristol, part of the elite BBC unit that produces the ultimate in blue-chip wildlife films. It was a fascinating insight into that amazing world, it turned me on to radio and also made me realise that I am not really cut out for a real job (and have been freelance ever since).

So it was really exciting to be back in the studio this morning to do a live insert into the new 40 week series, Saving Species. What a turn around – for the first time ever, a programme of this scale has been commissioned with the express focus of looking at conservation. And I got my chance on the second episode – which, just in case you missed it (!) is available to listen again here …. It can also be downloaded here …. My bit crops up about 7.30 minutes into the programme if you are impatient.

I just loved the look on presenter Bret Westwood’s face as I advocated people taking sledgehammers to fences, decking and patios in the quest for a hedgehog-friendly garden!

I would love feedback – I really enjoyed doing the show and hope to do more. I also recorded a longer interview that will be placed on an Open University website soon – that I will share as soon as I can.

If ever there was evidence needed for the importance of hedgehogs, then it has come with the launch of the Labour Party election manifesto. We now have broken out of the niche – hedgehogs are mainstream …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCO-KwYpH0M&feature=player_embedded

It is only a matter of time that ‘Support the hedgehog’ becomes ‘Save the hedgehog, save the world’ … and at that point I will know I have been well and truly thieved.

Should it bother me? Well, it is easy to see why the Labour spin doctors have chosen the hedgehog – they see it as the most charismatic and benign of the country’s fauna – everyone loves a hedgehog.

But who would a hedgehog vote for?

Even though I have a recollection of the Monster Raving Loony Party calling for the lowering of the buttons on traffic lights, to enable hedgehogs to press them and facilitate their crossing … I am not sure there is quite enough coherence in the overall environmental and wildlife strategies to seduce most right-thinking hogs.

Tories? Well, there is a streak of green running through that party – the old-school conservatives were and are frequently into many of the things that hedgehogs like – countryside, hedges etc – even if the motivations are rather suspect, driven more often than not by a desire to kill something for fun. But – arch-Tory Ann Widdecombe is a very keen hedgehog supporter. She insisted that on her 60th birthday her friends did not give her presents, but donate money to the BHPS. I met her and chatted about this – she is, despite some rather less-pleasant views, a delightfully intelligent and slightly intimidating woman with more than a toe slipping over the line between animal welfare and animal rights.¬†Another surprising Tory supporter was that ‘semi-house-trained polecat’ (thanks Michael Foot for that) Norman Tebbit.

Though I wonder whether the Tory love of nature may in part be motivated by a general misanthropism.

Liberal Democrats should be pretty green, mainly with envy at the other two main parties hoarding the votes, but their local track-record is not as pleasant as it should be given the generally benign nature of their presentation. I will need to read a little more about them to see if they really do have anything to offer the hedgehog.

Labour? Well, the closest they have come to supporting hedgehog-rights is in their video! Though under their leadership the hedgehog has been upgraded to a priority species on the Biodiversity Action Plan (even if this means nothing unless I and my colleagues get on and do something about it).

But none of the three main parties seems to have grasped the bigger picture – that will appeal most to hedgehogs (and wildlife around the country). It is impossible to have a sustainable environment – one in which wildlife is able to flourish and is not at risk of being wiped out by development and climate change – without addressing the central tenet of capitalism. Growth – growth cannot go on forever – it is a biological imperative – growth has to stop at some point. In our body, when there is growth that does not follow basic biological laws, we have CANCER. Society that is driven to consume more and more – and industry that collapses without continual growth – is all completely doomed to failure.

The big problem for us is that politicians do not give a damn – they are going to be in power for a brief moment – and they want to hold onto as much power as they can in that time. They are not giving a thought to what is going to happen to their children’s children. Politics is so obscenely focussed on the short term interests of the greedy and so depressingly ignorant (or uncaring) of the long term impacts of their actions that it is hard to find a voice to turn to …

And that leaves the Greens. Can they? Will they earn their first seat in the House of Commons? In Brighton there is one of the most honest and hard-working people I have ever met – Caroline Lucas. And she is in with a real chance. We are not going to get a Green government any time soon – but I think it is to the Greens we must look if we want to find a party that is truly on the side of the hedgehogs (oh, and the rest of us too!)

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