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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I have just had  call from my agent, Patrick Walsh, who had picked up a copy of the Guardian on his way back from the airport (he has just spent two weeks cuddling baby elephants with Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya) … and he was so excited. It is the possibly the best review my book has ever received … even if it does describe me as having an ‘endearing battiness’.

He picks up on the fact that this could be first and only book ever published to be endorsed by both Ann Widdecombe and Jeanette Winterson … oh, just read it and imagine how warm my cockles are feeling!

You can read it online at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/27/prickly-affair-charm-hedgehog-warwick

Or, because I care for the state of your fingers, here:

Oh, come on, I thought. A whole book about hedgehogs? All right then, bring it on. After all, it is one of the purposes of this column to introduce not only you, but its author, to unfamiliar or unlikely subjects. And, speaking personally, I have very little opinion about hedgehogs, except for the usual idées reçues about how Gypsies are said to bake them in clay, how on earth they mate (very carefully, ho ho), and don’t they all have fleas?

Well, after reading this book, not only am I significantly better informed about the little spiny creatures, I feel considerably better disposed towards them. I am now hedgehog-conscious.

I am also much more aware of certain pockets of life in this country. One of the charms of this book is the endearing battiness of its author – but in contrast to the benign loopiness of some of the people he interviews, he is a calm and sober commentator.

You wouldn’t think so at first, though. The picture we initially get of Hugh Warwick is that of a wet, smelly and somewhat obsessive naturalist up at all hours of the night, wringing the rain out of his beard and chasing carefully after hedgehogs with tracking devices on their backs. These are luminous, so that a courting pair appear as “an amazing dance of two sprites, one circling the other, with periodic leaps and sneezes like waltzing glow-worms with hay-fever”. (Although female hedgehogs spend a lot of time fending off the attentions of ardent males – I make no comment – there is still quite a bit of noisy hedgehog sex in here, including an anecdote from Bremen, where police officers called to investigate some strange noises found “two hedgehogs described unusually eloquently by the police spokesman as being ‘loudly engaged in ensuring the continuity of their species’.”)

Hedgehogs are eccentric themselves, so it should come as no surprise that they attract the devotion of the oddball. There will be few other books, if any, which are endorsed, as this one is, by both Ann Widdecombe and Jeanette Winterson. (Which is not to say that either of them is odd, but . . . well, you know what I mean.) In fact, you could fill up the New Statesman’s “This England” column for a year with material from this book. Meet Barbara Roberts, chatelaine of Withington Hedgehog Care, who tries out all the drugs she uses on her charges herself first (“Well, Metacam tastes really quite nice, but they hate one of the antibiotics and I can see why”); or Elaine Drewrey, mother of the lead singer of the band Swing Out Sister, who has the messiest house Warwick has ever seen. “Anyway, no hedgehog has ever complained about the state of the house and that is what matters to me.”

Americans, of course, have to do things bigger than everyone else, so when Warwick goes to the International Hedgehog Olympic Games, prepare yourself for a parade of lunacy beyond the imagination of any satirist. Never mind Zug Standing Bear, who, after an eye-opening time examining American atrocities in Vietnam, used to be one of Gerald Ford’s bodyguards and now has a champion hog called Buttercup – he’s a regular guy. Check out Dawn Wrobel, who communicates telepathically with her hedgehogs and asserts that the creatures call themselves “star children”. (As Warwick says helplessly at this point: “I would hate it if people thought I was not an open-minded sort, I really like to think I am, but . . .”) And just wait till you get to the business about the Rainbow Bridge. Credulity, even with the intermediary of sceptical paraphrase, can only be stretched so far.

So what is not to love about this book? It is funny, generous, kind, learned (a lot of ancient hedgehog lore), thoughtful, ecologically minded and – this is quite important, actually – unsentimental. (The way badgers eat hedgehogs is somewhat unsettling, but then that’s the natural world for you.) I would never have imagined that a book on this subject would have me reading lots of bits of it out to anyone who would listen. But that’s what happened here. It achieves its purpose: and in its charm lies its success.

A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog by Hugh Warwick 304pp, Penguin, £9.99