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

Image

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 ….

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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!

This one is, well, strange. Please feel free to comment with all honesty – the slide show was just something I knocked up on the coach on the way into London … but the song … I really really want to like it ….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFxHcrimlhc

Just got a piece about the Uists onto the Guardian website about the Uists, hedgehog carers and the recession …

oh – and a photograph of a hedgehog being looked after (because it is better than the one the Guardian used!) at Sue Kidger’s rescue centre in Twickenham.

The massive difference in people’s attitudes to wildlife is starkly revealed today. On the one had the Scotsman has reported on the costs of the hedgehog-eradication programme in the Uists – so far £1.2 million has been spent, and they are planning on spending a further £1 million. This is all with the aim of improving the breeding success of ground-nesting birds – a few hedgehogs were introduced in 1974 to control slugs and snails in a garden, but have since been enjoying the freedom of the islands (freedom from badgers and heavy traffic) – unfortunately they have also been enjoying the freedom of the massive egg-breakfast laid for them by the internationally important populations of wading birds, like dunlin and ringed plover.

When the eradication started, in 2003, there was a furore as Scottish Natural Heritage were killing the hedgehogs, and many of us ended up helping to rescue them. Eventually we managed to persuade them that killing was unnecessary (for a more detailed analysis – here is a paper that summarises the research I did) and since 2006 SNH have been handing the animals over to the one-time rescuers to relocate on the mainland.

And how much is that per hedgehog? Over £800 to remove each and every hedgehog. And that is not the half of it – up until this year, the work has, in effect, been subsidised by animal welfare charities – who have used their voluntary labour to re-home the animals after their deportation from the Outer Hebrides. All of the hedgehogs come to the indescribably wonderful Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue hospital.

The other measure of our attitudes to hedgehogs and wildlife in general is a story that features another wildlife rescue hospital.  The Guardian is running a piece today, including video, from Vale Wildlife Rescue in Gloucestershire, which is making the rather important point that hungry wildlife needs to be fed and the food costs money. It is not just Vale – and I am sure they would be the first to make this clear – but wildlife rescue centres all over the country and feeling the pinch and need a little help. Not just money – find out what they actually need – is it old newspapers, tins of dog food – and see what you can do. If only all the wildlife rescuers got £800 for each hedgehog!!

And back up in the Uists, has all this money been well spent? Well, when the British Trust for Ornithology did a survey, to investigate the impact the removal of hedgehogs was having on the breeding success of ground nesting birds, they uncovered something rather startling: in some areas where hedgehogs had been removed, the birds were doing LESS well than where the hedgehogs were left alone and declines in dunlin were happening at the same rate in areas with hedgehogs and on islands without.

SNH have now acknowledge this and said that there is no “statistically robust evidence” that all their work “has as yet resulted in a positive response in wader populations”. They continue to suggest that there may be “other variables” having an impact on the bird populations … well, I hate to say ‘I told you so’ … but ‘I TOLD YOU SO’ … I did a study into a very similar story, up on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney archipelago, way back in 1986, and found that while hedgehogs did take some eggs, they were not the main cause of the problem. All too often, wildlife managers leap to a ‘Daily Mail-esque’ conclusion – blame it on the illegal immigrant and get rid of them by what ever means necessary. Well, sometimes it is not the different-looking newcomer who is at fault … so rather than spending another million pounds shifting hedgehogs, perhaps now is time to look at the problem afresh.

Someone very soon is about to be the 1000th visitor to my blog … now that may not strike you as much (I think that Mr Fry has over 1,000,000 twits) – but for me it is an achievement and will make me feel just a little bit more loved!

Please pass on the blog link to anyone you think might be interested in the wonderful world of hedgehogs and the peculiar way I manage to see a hedgehog in pretty much every story out there … more to follow – though perhaps I should be advocating hibernation now our toes are beginning to be nipped.

And for the hedgehog relevant bit – just had a question in about a hedgehog behaving in a drunken manner … this is not the result of hedgehogs eating slugs that have been killed in beer traps (at least not at this time of year) – but it is a very clear indication that the animal is suffering from hypothermia – and will die if not taken into care (that is not a judgement call by the way, it is just an observation). If you want to find out the basics of keeping a hedgehog alive, have a look in my book; at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society or call your local carer (details again via the BHPS).

Happy Hedgehogging xx

To get to the ‘tattoo parlour’ – a temporary affair above the gallery, cordoned off by a red-rope barrier from the crowds, I was lead up the back stairs by Jai, master-mind of the madness that was about to begin. I was in the first batch of three – out of the 100 to be tattooed over the long weekend.

I think that Jai was probably more nervous than I was – so much to worry about, from media, to health – even so, there were a few butterflies tumbling as I walked out into the glare of the stage. I shared a quick smile with Kate, who was also about to get her first tattoo – before we took our places.

Many people I know already have tattoos, so the details will be well appreciated, but for me, this was a first, and probably last, opportunity to experience the art.

Simon – already fairly well covered with a wide array of images, was to be my artist. A quick shave of my lower left leg, a swab down with some fancy gel that allows the image on paper to transfer across to the skin … so that is how it is done … not just the freehand genius, they have help! And then, after attaching a fresh needle to the Heath Robinson tattooing machine, he began. He dipped the needle into a small pot of ink – preparing his quill.

As I had sat down I had realised there was quite a crowd come to see the start of the show, but found I was facing away from everyone. Not sure what it would have been like looking out at everyone.

I tried to relax, but there was a slight moment of bracing as the needle, buzzing like a gentle dentist’s drill, first touched my skin. Remarkably un-uncomfortable – though there was a strange taste in my mouth that started almost immediately and lasted for a couple of days.

It was such a benign experience that I picked up my camera and started taking photographs … proof of the calmness came in the steadiness of my hand – no flash and no shake. As my back was turned towards the crowd, the only way of finding out who was looking was by taking photographs over my shoulder – you can understand that I did not want to move too much while Simon was needling my skin.

And then it was all over – so quick. He had been dabbing away at flecks of blood and excess ink – along the way and the result looked remarkably complete. Yes, a little bruised, but otherwise fine. But that was not it … there was another component to the process – to be photographed with a 120 year old camera – big plate film, masses of detail I am sure. And not of the tattoo, but portraits of each of the ambassadors.

All 100 are done now – and I am hoping that we can arrange some sort of reunion – and as I discussed in a piece in the Guardian, possibly linking up with people doing this in other countries to present a block of wildlife ambassadors at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

So, to the healing – the instructions were simple – get hold of nappy cream and cling film … I was so disappointed that when I left the restaurant with a friend all the supermarkets were closed, I just wanted to imagine the look of confusion when all that was bought was beer, nappy cream and cling film.

After three days of that, it was on to coco butter – and there is general appreciation for the tattoo – in fact more than that. People are surprised at how cute it is … there is an association between tattoos and anger I think, so it is pleasing to have an image that subverts this. There is no attempt to repel with the hedgehog – it is there to attract.

Is that it? Will there be any more? Well, the night of the tattoo, back at my friend’s flat and her partner asks about my next book idea – the one where I track down people with animal passions similar to my own, but for different species … and Ian’s thought? “You are just on the hunt for the next tattoo, aren’t you?” Well, that has set something stirring in my mind …. will just have to wait and see.