Rare is the time that I find myself in agreement with Les Stocker at St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital (well, okay, not that rare, it is just that I am still smarting from some rather snooty behaviour) – but this report on the BBC news website about the attempt to promote African Pygmy Hedgehogs as pets in the UK is spot on … While it did what the BBC is obliged to do, and give two sides to a story, it clearly came down on the side of sanity.

As I have said before, on here and in my book, those extremely cute little hedgehogs – mash ups of Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix algirus –  in fact, here is some proof of quite how cute

(this one was called Matilda, sharing a name with my daughter) – they should not be encouraged as pets in the UK.

In the USA and Canada, should mainly focus on the welfare of the hedgehogs being kept in captivity – though I am still keen to address the issue of keeping wild animals at all … how long does it take a wild animal to be bred into a domestic one? It is about 20 years since the first ones were exported from Nigeria to the USA. Are these still wild animals? Could they survive back in their original habitat? I don’t know.

But in the UK there are two additional problems. First, numpties who think they can make a fast buck by trying to sell wild European hedgehogs as pets to other numpties who think they would rather not pay the £150 for the pleasure of a spiky nocturnal pet. It will happen if the craze catches on.

And secondly, the inevitability of boredom … there is a reason why the craze of keeping pet hedgehogs in the USA crested quickly and then quickly died. These are not great pets for most people. And children, especially, will get bored. And what to do? Many will be released into the wild (why not, there are hedgehogs out there already says the numpty) … where they will die, or be found and handed into one of the already overburdened wildlife rescue hospitals around the country. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has a list of active carers on their website – it would be interesting to know how many have already received unwanted pygmy hedgehogs. I know of at least six.

And what do the carers do? They cannot release the hogs, and they do not want to get involved with selling them on … so they are left with  them.

So – please – please – however cute they may be – think about how much more wonderful the experience is of seeing a wild animal snuffling around your garden at night – and put your time, money and effort into doing what you can to save our native hedgehogs (for example Hedgehog Street), rather than becoming side-tracked by the selfish desires to mount a potentially damaging must-have-pet craze.


The One Show, at last – and about 23 minutes into the show (please save yourselves, do not bother with the rest of it, it is painful!) is a whole section about our wonderful project, Hedgehog Street. Laura from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species does a wonderful job of getting a community to open up their gardens with judicious holes … though some of that was a little unnecessary as the there were clearly holes big enough for hedgehogs already … but that is the delight of television. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

And then my moment … wow, those 15 seconds flashed by rather quickly, but I am pleased I managed to say what I needed to say. Though they did introduce me as ‘Hedgehog author and aficionado’ … which is okay, but I had asked to be from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. At least we have a friend with Kate Bevan, the presenter who was snooping around my garden – she likes hedgehogs too.

The programme will be up on the web for another six days – here.

And a screen grab of me in mid flow, just to prove, after the web version is down, that it did all happen!

So lets get out there and make all our streets, Hedgehog Streets. Share the hedgehog love!

Nice and quiet Sunday – recovering from a busy Saturday in Manchester where I was talking hedgehogs at the museum thanks to ExtInked, who have a display up there. Had been planning to hang around up there and have fun with the wonderful friends who inhabit the place, but had managed to wreck my back a few days ago while splitting logs, and was too uncomfortable to play. Next time, however, it will coincide with me getting my second, and LAST, tattoo … more here soon.

But back to this morning, while I was busy washing up and Pip was playing – with enforced Brahms in the background, a phone call came through from Firebird PR – who work with the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. Could I be an expert, in an hour, for Channel 4 News … and we need stunt hedgehogs …

Luckily, Penny Little, who runs the Little Foxes rescue put us in touch with one of her fosterers, who takes the less-critical hedgehogs in until they are fit for release. Anne Fowler lives only 20 minutes away, so, after a shave and a realisation I needed a haircut (too late for that) I was soon at her door.

‘They had to want to do it today,’ she said as she invited me in. ‘One of the hedgehogs escaped last night and is under the dishwasher,’ and she pointed to the dismantled kitchen unit. But still the hedgehog had evaded capture, when she had managed to gently grasp it with the barbecue tongs it had rolled into a ball, understandably, and had become too big to extract. So there was a stand-off. And a plate of dog food with which to lure him out.

Channel 4 were not far behind me. I had been at the launch of an important report on Tuesday in London. The State of Britain’s Mammals had been commissioned by the PTES and was written by the UK’s top mammal scientist, Professor David Macdonald from Oxford University’s WildCRU. But David was in Brazil, and anyway, the story that the press had picked up on, again, was the parlous state of the UK’s hedgehog population. So, being local, and a media tart, I was ‘perfect’!

Cut aways of hedgehogs roaming the garden in daylight will undoubtedly upset the purists – hedgehogs are, of course, nocturnal and if they are out in the day, something is probably wrong with them. But I was most impressed with the journalist presenting the piece, Asha Tanna. I told her that these images would result in letters, and she very naturally wrote an explanation into her script … and while it is important people do not think that hedgehogs enjoy sunbathing, there is also something very powerful about actually seeing the real animal … even if it is out at the wrong time.

I have watched many of these sorts of reports being recorded, and it is always great to see the cameraman (and sorry, I forgot his name) find their inner-David Attenborough and go trying to capture every possible bit of actuality.

At one point it looked as if it was the hedgehog being interviewed!

Very impressive to watch them head off at 2.15 with a plan to have it all ready for 6.15 tonight … fast work!

And the story? Hedgehogs in decline, down 25% in 10 years, and over 90% in the last 60 years (though that is based on a possibly not very reliable population estimate from 1950). What we need to do? For a start, Hedgehog Street.

Hedgehog Street is such a great idea, and when it was launched at the beginning of June we did loads of media and were thrilled with the way it had grabbed the attention. Within a few days there were thousands of people signed up and – in fact as of now there are over 11,000 people who are out there actively helping to improve the lot of the hedgehog. And now, thanks to the politicians taking some time off from their mistresses (what is the male version of a mistress?) to be with their families, there has been a second spate of interest. A week or so back I did an interview with The One Show – a BBC1 sofa-based chat thing that I have never watched. I had a few hours, on returning bleary eyed from five days at the wonderful Buddhafield festival, to make my wildlife friendly garden seem more suitable for the non-human wildlife (this required putting the superfluous toys and bikes in the neighbour’s garden). The interviewer (forgotten her name already, must get a brain) teased me about the state of the place, piles of prunings gradually being munched by minibeasties, but it all seemed to go well. She was then off to interview Laura from the PTES and get an idea of how best to link up all the wildlife friendly gardens – the key to Hedgehog Street.

Then today I was back with the wonderful Sue Kidger in Twickenham to be interviewed for the Right/Write/Wright Stuff on Channel 5 (which one is right?). Great fun, camera operator Rosie ended up covered in hedgehog poo and having a little hoglet named after her – assistant David took a photo of me performing for the camera.

And I got photos of the hedgehogs performing for camera too …

And my first half decent photo of a hedgehog self-annointing.

So all in all a very successful day. As yet we have no idea when the pieces will make it to air, but I will let you know when I do.

This is just a very quick round up of some of the coverage we have managed to get for the launch of Hedgehog Street campaign and also the report, the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs.

1st June was launch day and we had pieces in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Then there was the radio blitz, I did the breakfast show on BBC Wales, then BBC West Midlands followed by a manic cycle ride to the BBC studios in Oxford. But that was nothing compared to what others got up to. Fay at the BHPS did three interviews I think and Laura at the PTES had the joy of sitting in a studio and being pinged around the country, doing 13 local radio stations, one after the other.

The night before the launch I was asked to write something for the Guardian website, as part of Comment is Free – and thank goodness for Harry Potter, as my two children watched half an episode while I wrote it after dinner. It emerged on the Guardian website around lunch time and by the next morning (as I am writing) was still on the front page and had stimulated such a debate that there were 175 comments – mostly from people sympathetic to hedgehogs (though there were a few offering recipe tips).

Then this morning, well, I had forgotten I had been interviewed by a journalist from the Independent a week or so ago … not sure if I sound entirely sane in this piece, but great to see my old friend Sue in there too.

There have been a host of re-postings, and local media interest too, so the story is out there. Which feels like something of a triumph. I have played this ‘game’ many times before, but rarely with such success – and while this was undoubtedly down in part to the wonderful pr team at Firebird (thanks Jane) it is also down to luck … if bin Laden had been shot yesterday, we would not have had a fraction of the attention; if another footballer had been caught with his injunctions around his ankles, we would have been lost.

The last time I helped launch a hedgehog story on the world the UK government, without a whisper to anyone else, released a hedgehog-related story the day before … and we were sunk … the media are happy to cover tittle-tattle day in day out, delighted to revel in economics and way without fatigue, but hedgehogs? Can’t do them too often … people would get bored …

Well, I would disagree with that idea … bored of hedgehogs? Never!

Perhaps the biggest hedgehog story for some time, and I am in the thick of it. Today, 1st June, we are launching ‘Hedgehog Street‘. And, as Melvyn Bragg is so keen on saying as he befuddles audiences on In Our Time (one of my favourite radio programmes), now I ought to ‘unpack’ that a little.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species have been working together for many years, but this is our biggest effort yet. In the past we have developed projects such as HogWatch and we also support the rather unfortunate Mammals on Roads surveys (unfortunate because it relies on the murderous rampage of the motor car to help us monitor fluctuations in the hedgehog population).

What these projects have revealed is alarming. But we wanted to check that the serious decline in hedgehog numbers was ‘real’ and not just a quirk of the way the data were collected. So we employed some of the best ecological statisticians at the British Trust for Ornithology (I know, they do birds, but they also do numbers REALLY well) and they used our figures along with data they had collected. From this we can unequivocally state that in the last ten years, the hedgehog population of Britain has declined by around 25%.

This is alarming. The hedgehog is an excellent indicator of the state of our environment, it is also a wonderfully robust creature that has managed to fit brilliantly into our world. So what has changed? And what can we do about it?

The answer is something I have been banging on about for years. Habitat fragmentation.

At its most obvious, this would be a busy road being built through an area of hedgehog habitat. Hedgehogs would then be unable to get from one side to the other. But fragmentation is far more insidious. It happens in the rural landscape because fields get bigger and hedges remain unmanaged. It is exacerbated by the increase in badgers, the presence of which prevents hedgehogs moving along the remaining hedgerows. And it happens in the last refuge of the hedgehog, suburbia.

In A Prickly Affair, I wrote about the suburban doughnut … the circle of rich hedgehog territory that surrounds the desert its heart. But this doughnut of interconnected gardens is also being fragmented. Obviously, busier roads make a hedgehog’s life harder. But so does infill development, so does the destruction of wildlife friendly gardens with extensions, decking, patios and car-ports. And so do fences with concrete footings. You might have the very best hedgehog friendly garden in the city – and I have had this question asked of me many times – but no hedgehogs. Well, if they cannot get into your garden, they will not appear.

And this is where Hedgehog Street comes in. This innovative project has been set up to help us all recreate a mosaic of interconnected habitats in suburbia. There is an information pack with all the details, the website also has top tips, but what it comes down to is the simple fact that if we open out our gardens to hedgehogs by allowing them to move between them, we massively increase their chances of survival.

The figures are amazing, there are around 433,000 hectares of garden and if we could get just 0.1% of them involved, that would create a hedgehog refuge larger than Sherwood Forest!

So log on to Hedgehog Street, get your pack and get active – and don’t forget to share the fun, post your stories on the forum, get local media interest (this will be on SpringWatch soon) and get out there with a saw and a sledgehammer!

So there is plenty we can do, but there is one fact that this analysis of historic data has thrown up that shook me to my core. The population estimate for hedgehogs in Britain in 1950 was around 30 million. In 1995 it was about 1.5 million. Now, probably nearer one million. That is less than 5% of the 1950 figure. That means we have lost over 95% of our hedgehogs in just 60 years. Please re-read that sentence. It is possible that the original figure is an over-estimate. But, say, it is double what was really out there, that would still mean we have a 90% population decline on our hands.

This leads me to something else that has been bothering me for sometime. It is the idea of ‘shifting baselines’. We are worried about the substantial decline we are aware of – and there is no denying how serious it is – but this is a quite small decline compared to what we have already lost. Shifting baselines kick in when we make assessments about the state of populations based on the knowledge that we personally have. So my idea of a healthy population of hedgehogs will be heavily influenced by my early memories of abundance. That memory acts as a baseline from which I now look in distress at the current population level. But the situation is far worse than that as my baseline is drawn from an already devastated population. And this is true for everything. There is simply far less wildlife out there than there was. And the reason is because we have killed it or we have destroyed the habitat necessary for it to flourish.

This is something to feel sadness and anger about, but it is vital we do not let that beat us into submission. I know many people think my passion for hedgehogs a little eccentric, but the truth is, it is a passion for all wildlife, and the message the hedgehog tells us now is one we must heed. Remember – we might have already lost 95% of the country’s hedgehogs. Grieve, then act; give the hedgehogs a treat.