A short introduction
As I was growing up I always wanted to work with animals. First I was definitely going to be a vet, but then found out how clever you had to be! (I had been reading a series of books about a vet in Yorkshire)
Then I was going to be a marine biologist – but the water was so cold in the Irish Sea! (I had been reading books by Jacque Cousteau)
Next, I was definitely going to join Jane Goodall researching chimpanzees in Tanzania (and yes, I had been reading her wonderful books) … and this time, well, I ended up going out there to do some research, mainly environmental education. But it was a start.
But throughout all of my exotic dreams, I have been mostly drawn to the wildlife closer to home – and over the last 30 years, I have paid most attention to just one animal, the hedgehog.
I have written two books about them; I work with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species on their Hedgehog Street programme, and I travel the country doing talks and training workshops about this wonderful animal.
Rescued hedgehogs (Uists, Scotland).
What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?
Initially, I think it was books that sparked my interest – but I also remember the thrill of hiding in the hedge in field behind my parent’s house in Chester and finding I was being watched by a fox. The realisation that the fox was interested in me was almost as exciting as the fox itself.
I recently re-found a stream in North Wales up which I used to play while my parents and sister picnicked. The way the lichen-draped branches leant over the whisky-brown water – the way the rocks had been carved by centuries of water into organic shapes – swirling like the water – and the way it was possible to jump, scramble and tumble up the stream, along these rocks … all of this made me realise how very happy I was in nature.
Rescued hedgehog from certain death, trapped in a concrete-sided drain.
What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently?
Hedgehogs, hedgehogs and hedgehogs … I know there is more to life than these prickly beasts but I choose to ignore it! The population of hedgehogs in this country continues to decline. If we can’t halt the collapse in numbers of this most popular of mammals, what hope for those that are less charismatic?
Actually – there is another mammal related story that continues to irritate me – and that is the misappropriation of science (or the complete ignorance of science) by those pushing the badger cull. When the likes of Professor Rosie Woodruffe argues so clearly against this politically motivated reaction to the problems caused by intensive animal farming you realise it is not just your own personal prejudice getting in the way. And to top it all, there are repeated attempts by some to try and justify killing badgers because they are part of the problem faced by hedgehogs. It is hard to engage with those who are so far removed from an understanding of ecology.
Badger (Meles meles).
Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?
The badger story is really important as it goes to the heart of the importance with which evidence-based policy is treated. There seems to be a surge in demand for fewer experts … why should we bother listening to people when we already KNOW how we feel. This is an undermining of the scientific process. With my ecological hat on I am simply trying to find the least worst way of explaining what is going on. When I have found my prejudice confronted by fact I have changed my view – and it is essential that those in a position of power do the same.
Radio-tagged hedgehog ready for release.
What three things could our readers do to help hedgehogs?
Apart from helping to bring on the collapse of industrial capitalism, I presume?
Connectivity is key – making sure that your garden is connected to your neighbour’s garden through a small hole in the fence. This is at the heart of the project called Hedgehog Street that I help to run.
Food – there are not enough macro-invertebrates out there – everything suffers, but the hedgehog is one of the most obvious victims. We need farmland to be managed with a view to maximising returns, of course, but the returns need to be measured in a different way – we need to be increasing ecological returns.
Shelter – hedgehogs need leaves to make nests. And these need to be leaves of the right size, not too big, not too small. They also need hedgerows … so get planting and get (gently) managing – and start to ‘think hedgehog’ with every decision you make.
If you want to find out more about hedgehogs, visit Hugh’s website urchin.info
Thank you for your time, Hugh!
Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door