The Nature Room

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020

May 02, 2020 Ashley Coates Season 1 Episode 3
The Nature Room
Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020
Chapters
The Nature Room
Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020
May 02, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Ashley Coates

An interview with author and ecologist Hugh Warwick, recorded in the run up to Hedgehog Awareness Week, a UK-based celebration of all-things hedgehog. We discussed what it is like to get to know a hedgehog, how Hugh came to be "Mr Hedgehog" and how we can better look after these wonderful animals. 

Show Notes Transcript

An interview with author and ecologist Hugh Warwick, recorded in the run up to Hedgehog Awareness Week, a UK-based celebration of all-things hedgehog. We discussed what it is like to get to know a hedgehog, how Hugh came to be "Mr Hedgehog" and how we can better look after these wonderful animals. 

Ashley Coates:

It won't have escaped your notice that w e a re occurring towards one of the highlights of the British calendar, which i s of course, Hedgehog Awareness Week and annual celebration of all things hedgehog and a time to consider how we might be a little bit nicer to our s piky friends. I found out a few things I didn't know about hedgehogs while I was r esearching this podcast. I didn't know that they are noisy eaters, which is wonderful. I didn't know there was a Hedgehog House, which is the headquarters of the British Hedgehog Preservation society, which also produces a Hogerlogue, a hedgehog-themed product catalog. That led me down the rabbit hole of discovering hedgehogs from space, which is a kid's book about hedgehogs accidentally being taken to the International Space Station, and also discovering they are mentioned Shakespeare's plays where they're described as hedgepigs and urchins. Sadly, I was also not aware that their n bers had declined so much. We're now talking about a 97% reduction in hedgehog members in the UK since World War Two. And the reasons for that, mainly habitat loss are still happening today. Hopefully you will agree with me that there's never been a more important time to engage with the hedgehog. They're not just adorable and cuddly and interesting look at, but they're a hugely important part of our natural environment and well worth all the productions that they can be given. I had the enormous good fortune of getting to speak with ecologist and author Hugh Warwick. You might be familiar with him from the many talks and public appearances he makes on the subject of hedgehogs. He has become this country's go to hedgehog man. And as he explains, hedgehog awareness is not just about the hedgehog, it's also about their role as a gateway species, getting people to take more care of our world through our national funders for hedgehogs. He's a fascinating man to speak to and I hope you enjoy this interview. Hugh, thank you so much for joining me, it's very good of you to do so, and you're heading towards what must be one of the highlights in your calendar, Hedgehog Awareness Week. Are were you able to tell me a little bit about the background to that event, and what we can expect from it?

Hugh Warwick:

Thanks Ashley. That's great. Well, the hedgehog societies were set up because Major Adrian Coles , a retired army man had found a hedgehog trapped and dead in a cattle grid. I'd say I vaguely remember stories in John Craven's Newsround, which will be revealing my age somewhat, of this being an issue. Now initially they started putting bricks in cattle grids to stop hedgehogs being trapped down there, and now there is actually a ramp that's supposed to be included. But right at the beginning , back in the 1980s, there wasn't an enormous amount of attention paid towards hedgehogs. There was a lot of misinformation about hedgehogs, and so the idea of the focus of an awareness week was so that we could put a lot of effort into one short period of time to try and get people thinking about and talking about and learning about hedgehogs. I have to say now that the amount of work that I do as a spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society suggests that we've stretched Hedgehog Awareness Week to cover most of the other 51 weeks of the year.

Ashley Coates:

I think it's that the animals which people really do want to hear about and attract, I think that the media and PR and individuals are really keen, I think to every year, not just in this week, all the time. I'm always interested because I think they are just, well, they're just so interesting to look at. I think primarily, I guess it must be , but this is for you, there's obviously been a lifelong interest and it's probably fair to say you're probably, more closely identified with than almost anywhere else. How did you end up being so interested in them?

Hugh Warwick:

Well, I'm an ecologist by training and I was doing my degree back in the mid 1980s at Leicester Polytechnic. And , I got an opportunity to go and look at the hedgehogs on the most northerly island of the Orkney archipelago. The hedgehogs had been introduced up there in the early 1970s, and 12, 13 years later they were blamed for the dramatic reduction in breeding success of many of the ground nesting birds. Now, North Ronaldsay is very flat. There are really no trees, there's no cliffs , so pretty much anything nesting their nests on the ground - and hedgehogs , will eat birds , eggs. So my work began as an ecologist looking at a wildlife , conflict, and it was a fascinating exercise. I went back , very soon afterwards to visit, I went back with another project on my, off my own back , because I was finding that while many people have been studying the hormonal fluctuations of hibernating hedgehogs, not many people had been looking at the basic ins and outs of hedgehog life. I mean there was , two people in particular, a Dr Pat M orrison, Dr Nigel Reef, both of whom are now colleagues and friends who had been at the cutting edge of this sort of research. , bu t otherwise it was an area which wasn't massively explored. And from a point of view of a, an ecologist who, I mean, I lik e my little bit of adventure every now and then, but you've got consider the hedgehog is a species that when it's confronted by what it considers to be a threat, i t either frowns or it rolls up into a ball. They don't have a fight or flight response. So you don't need to be fleet of foot to chase the m an d yo u don't need to be sort of body armor to be able to look after them. So you can, you can wait your time. They're not going to attack you. They're not going to run away. You can catch up with them. You can wave them, you can do whatever checks you need to do, release them. Let them get on their way. So they're quite accessible and add to this, as you quite rightly mentioned, Ashley, people love hedgehogs and every time there's a vote or a poll , the hedgehog always wins. You know, the nation's favourite animal, favourite species or whatever. People love hedgehogs. And this means that we've then got a very ready way of discussing many of the larger wildlife environmental conservation issues. But through the guise of the hedgehog , we can talk about the way our food is grown, the way that we travel around the country, the way that , , our energy is produced, the way that pesticides are applied to our fields, the way that our landscape i s chopped up into smaller pieces, all sorts of issues, which may not be right at the front of people's minds suddenly become accessible because you're talking about them through the lens of a hedgehog.

Ashley Coates:

Because like you say, they're kind of ubiquitous and well known in media circles. And certainly when you're a child, they're very much in books and the like, are we still learning significant amounts about them? Is there anything still surprising you about them when you, when you're doing your work?

Hugh Warwick:

My research days are sort of a bit past, but I help manage the various projects which are ongoing. , D d oes a collaboration between the British h edgehog preservation society and the p eople's trust for endangered species. And we run a campaign called hedgehog street and under this, under the auspices of this, w e funded a whole range of different researchers to go out and do the work. And yes, there is an awful lot that we need to know still. , i t's, it's becoming apparent th at t h at f ragmentation in the landscape is a really crucial problem that he dgehogs f ace, , tha t even though they may only have quite little legs and not seem to move very far, they do need, I mean, a ma l e wil l average two kilometers a night, the female one kilometer a ni g ht. , bu t w hat we need to know is how we've begun to get an idea, sorry, I've had big an area hedgehogs needs to be able to thrive and for a viable popul ation, , fo r a viabl e population, we now know that they need an area of nearly a square kilometer for a starting population of just over 30. , you k no w, this is new research. We're beginning to unpick what it is that's going on. Also, for example, how much of the problem in our agricultural landscape is being caused for hedgehog s that is , is b ei ng c a used by badges a nd how much of it is being caused by the lack of macro and virt ual but foo d , , tryi n g t o, to unpick th ese co mplicated ecological ideas. It's goin g to keep researchers, , , wor k i ng for , for dec ade s to come.

Ashley Coates:

What's the, I mean, I'm asking you that this is an enormous question, in reality, but is there , what are the solutions to this fragmentation as you describe it? Is there a, apart from not recommending, okay, is there a way that we can do things differently? That's are there sort of, I don't want to use the word easy fixes even though I have just used it. Is there anything that we can be doing now?

Hugh Warwick:

I mean it , it's a really interesting way of looking at it and yes, easy fixes . There are not many , , p erhaps another way of looking at it is a while ago, the, , on line petition web site ch a nged.org go t in touch with me and change.org said, yea h, w e see that hedgehogs, , , a r eal ly they're getting a lot of interest. , would y ou like to, to run a campaign, , call i n g f or some dramatic change to help hedgehogs and, , and, a n d e s sen tially the same question here. What is it you'd like to ask for, you know, to help hedgehogs get back to their former glor y? Bec ause we know that populations are down, , dramati c a lly , , even in, i n my lifet im e. And so I sort of half jokingly began with, well, let's dismantle industrial capitalism and you could sort of hear the gasp from the p eopl e whose, , , business m o del re lies on it. , a nd then gradually we were sort of pushing ideas back and forth. No, we weren't going to be able to lobby for enormous wildlife bridges to be built across all motorways. And the campaign, which, which has now been running for a year and a half, , is calling for all new housing developments to come with hedgehog highways. Built in tha t li ttle holes in the fences of the new, , d eve lopments, , s o tha t hedgehogs can move between gardens. , and t he , it' s w ww.change.org/save our hedgehogs. , and wh en we began, we hope to g et 1 0,000 signatures. , we're j ust about to crest 700,000 signatures. I've met the secretary of state, I've met with two of the largest housing developers in the country, and we've even got to the point now that Bovis homes, the fourth biggest developer in the country has made an absolute commitment that all new developments where possible are going to come with these hedgehog highways built in. So yeah, there is no one simple fix. I mean essentially the way that we travel around the countryside, the way that we grow our food, the way that we build our houses, all impacts on headshots and we can't sort of do everything in one go, but the first bit is to do the bits we can manage ourselves. Look at the gardens that the hedgehogs use, manage them to benefit hedgehogs, but make sure the hedgehogs can get in. And so hence the hedgehog street idea. But also, yeah , the petition idea. Get the holes in place so the hedgehogs can make it into your garden. That's the first step

Speaker 2:

I guess. Well firstly, congratulations on that petition. That is really fantastic. , and I've signed it as well. Actually that's 700,001. , a n d t hey, I guess th is s peaks a bit to what you were saying about hedgehogs almost being the introducing people to wider issues cause I guess those hedgehog holes will also help other wildlife. , I ass e

Hugh Warwick:

Of course, I mean this is it. There is everything you do to help. Hedgehogs is helping other wildlife too. So the fact that we call for people to having their gardens log piles and Bramble patches and compost heaps, if they could say lucky enough to have gardens and lucky enough to have the space. , but any of these b its, each of these things will help hedgehogs. Yes, absolutely. But they will also help, , be l l he l p bi r ds, s el f-help in sects. They're goi ng to he lp BAP S be cause the insects which are produced live in these areas will fly up and feed the bats. They'll help amphibians and reptiles, , i f t he entire ecosystem benefits when we help the hedgehog. And, , a n d for m any spec ies, which are less charismatic, less cared for, , t h a t, t hat inadvertently gain th is b enefit. And so I'm, I'm a real, you kno w, l et's work for the hedgehog. Let's work for the hedgehog. And yes, we are helping so much else too,

Ashley Coates:

But they , so I don't think I've ever actually met a hedgehog per se , which is kind of extraordinary. , but what are they, I mean,

Hugh Warwick:

Are you an urban dweller?

Ashley Coates:

I live in Bristol, so I think that's possibly why, but I mean, they are around. , what do they like t o, to know as animals? Do they have any particular characteristics to speak of? , I mean, do t hey have their own kind of personalities or ar e w e , are we asking too much of th e h edgehog at that point?

Hugh Warwick:

Oh, not at all. And I mean, it's, it's obviously the children's stories anthropomorphise all wildlife out to the end degree, but there is something special about the hedgehog. And , , I've actually had, , I had some extremely precious moments in the company of hedgehogs. Now I should point out at this stage, I am more of the sort of Da wkins, this sort of atheist, th is t ype of thing. I'm not really into W a n sp irituality. This is all grounded in, , i n empirical evidence yet stu ff which I see stuff, which I, I , I've measured. , bu t there is a thing, , t h e un quantifiable thing of love, , and , and the, the hedgehog has the capacity to engender that in people. Partly because as I mentioned earlier, they don't have a fight or flight response. If you consider most wildlife when you get close to it, it either bites you or it run s away or a combination of both, but the hedgehog doesn't. First of all, it frowns, brings the spines Ford over his forehead. It's the same frame muscle that we've got, but it goes all the way down to its tail. It frowns, brings all the spines up in a jaggedy pattern and then eventually we roll into a ball. If it's really bothered, this means you've got an opportunity to be very quiet and calm and wait for the hedgehog to unroll . And then you get a moment of something very special. You can get nose to nose, even if it's briefly with this absolutely stunningly sentient animal. I mean, this is, I, I've done research on loads of different species , , out in the field and I've handled all sorts of small mammals and really on the whole, once you've met one w ood m ouse, you've met them all. But each hedgehog I've met d ata t ends to come with some degree of character. Some of them are very calm, some of them are really gr py. Oh God. Some of them are gr py. , some of them are just very, very flighty and w ill run away, , a fter they've, they've come out of their ball, but they have a degree of character. And when I've been radio tracking hedgehogs for extended periods of time, you begin to actually find these characters. You can begin to identify hedgehogs, , by the way they're behaving when you see them because they are all subtly different. And I need, there are people who rescue hedgehogs, hedg ehogs, ca rers around the country of whom they n ber probably at least 800. And I'm sure they will say the same thing that hed gehogs come with different characters. And so what this means is you're presented with an animal which you can get close to but has character. And that means that moment of nose to nose, the moment of gazing into the eyes of this other creature can allow you to make a really dramatic shift in your relationship with nature. And this is, this is moving into a little more tenuous area, but I'm just the American writer, Stephen Jay Gould said, we will not fight to save what we do not love. And I use that really to, to bolster my arg ent that the hedgehog is the most important creature on the planet. , w hich that whole idea of , of finding something to love, which you can then fight for all of the wildlife and conservation groups understand this well and they're trying to get us to fall in love with nature so that we will fight for it. And that's really tricky be cause n a tures i s, ye ah, very, very nebulous concept. So you need to find your gatekeeper, your gateway species, , an d , a nd, but they tend to rely on the charismatic megafauna, elephants and lions and whales and the li ke. , a nd they're beautiful and the y're amazing. But you know, I'm as likely to get nose to nose with, , o n e of these, these amazing creatures. But the h pback whales I am with, with Angelina Jolie, I mean, these things aren't going to happen if you're lucky enough. Well, I'd probably need step ladder too . But I mean, if you're lucky enough, you'll , you'll fall in love with a girl or the boy next door and their hedgehog is the animal equivalent. It's the one you've got a chance to do that with because he doesn't have the fight or flight response because you can get nose to nose to it. And once you've made that connection with nature through this one gateway species, you do risk falling out of liking and into loving. I mean that, that, that difference between liking and loving is absolutely crucial. I think it's, it's very telling that the social media encourages us to, to like things. , no revolutions a re ever born on the back of people liking things i s only when we start to love that we will truly fight.

Ashley Coates:

, b ut like I think the Bristol Zoo Gardens, a ll t he slogan n eeds to be 'See it, Sense it, Save it', w hich I t hought w as a very kind of nice s mary of partly w hy i t exists, I suppose. , b ut also I guess with, I guess with hedgehogs, , in particular you 've, I guess you almost need more adults, I suppose, to become more, not more engaged. But I think having those moments of connection are so mehow harder, I guess. Because you don't go to events, we ar e no t on the ground in your garden. I always get the impression peo ple's st ories about connecting with nature. It's not just hedgehogs, I guess it's probably all natures. All these stories tha t co m e fr o m pe ople's childhoods. It's, you know, when I was going around on th e ground, I found these bugs. That's when I connected. Well I suppose, , p ar t of it has to be making sure that adults have that as well, I guess. ,

Hugh Warwick:

Hey , the adults do, I mean the , the nearly 700,000 people signing up to my petition are adults. , the, I've got a Facebook group, which is a hedgehog h ighways Facebook group because it was too hard to manage the change.org petition. , al l the communication with it. And there's nearly 7,000 people signed up to that. And again, you kn o w, t his is an adult audience and these people care and these, some of them are new to it, some of them are very new to it. And there's been a lot of really interesting work. There was a, t he re's a, a h, I 'v e fo rgotten the name of the person whose book has just come out, , l ook ing at the Nat, the natural health service. But, but prior to that we had Richard maybe s book , nature cure and then on, o n Chris Pack er's wonderful. , , n in e o' clock in the mornings, , , li v e c a sts on various social media. They had the amazing, , Lee ins p i rin g , , young nat u r ali st call ed or call ed Le Lizzie, Lizzie gun trip. I think her name is, , talking abo u t w hat wildlife you can see from your house, from your home, from your window. And the vital part that plays in combating, , the, the, th e va rious suedes of, of mental illness a nd an unhappiness sa dn ess, which, which can sweep us, especially in times like this, which are, , where we find o urs elves somewhat, , compromised.

Ashley Coates:

Yeah. And so as individuals, what can we do to help , , hedgehogs in our own gardens?

Hugh Warwick:

I mean, on the very practical level, The first thing to do is to remember that whilst you may have the world's most amazing wildlife friendly garden, and whilst you may Marvel at the Moss , the bees, the butterflies, the birds, and the bats as they flit around your place , , hedgehogs have yet to evolve the capacity to fly. , s o the RSPB seemed to think that they're probably well on their way to it because they use the he adshot e normously in their fundraising work. , so the, the hed gehog ne eds to get into your garden first, and that simply means a who le, t ha t th e ca mpaign that we run called hedgehog street, the simple message of that is, , w e'r e doing a hedge hog hedg ehog street develops when you've got people making holes in their fences, 13 centimeters across, let the hedge hogs move between gardens and it's the beginning of it. Let the hedgehog into your garden. And then the next part of it is dis dis get , just get rid of the cult of tidiness. Make sure that part of your garden is a bit rough. Make sure that part of your garden is a bit unkempt, that some wildness is allowed to exist. That , so log piles, compost h eaps. A wildlife pond is, is an absolute treat. , bu t make sure that it's something that wildlife like hedgehogs can get into and out of. They can swim but not forever. , t he n look for hazards around your garden. Look for netting. I mean netting can be absolutely disastrous for hedgehogs, whether it's fruit netting or sports netting. Look for the open drain covers that you might've been doing a bit of maintenance and forgotten to cover up. Make sure that the hedgehog is actually a little early. You' re tal king about whether you sort of get down on your hands and knees and snuffle around the place. And that's how we get these ideas of fondness for nature as children. But even as adults, we need to shift our perception sometimes and to begin to really think hedgehog. Begin to just imagine what it's like to be a hedgehog. Imagine what you need. You need food, you need shelter and you need water. Is there a shallow dish of water? Is there enough light in your garden to support hungry hedgehogs if not, put out some extra food and as the place other places for hedgehogs to shelter, whether it's a hedgehog house or even just a little bit of brambles that way you help hedgehogs. And as you rightly point out, you helped so much other wildlife too.

Ashley Coates:

And , food wise, I guess i t's still meets o f some s orts o r is it, is it still dog food? I remember being told was dog food a long time ago. I don't know if the guy s ays c hange.

Hugh Warwick:

Hedgehogs had carnivals , , they eat meat. , t here was some fascinating work do ne l ooking at the, , , t eas ing apart the DNA in, i n hedgehog feces. , I'm g lad I wasn't doing that work. And , it w as , does th e al arming moment when they discovered that that a lot of these hedgehogs were, w ere eating cows and pigs until it dawned on the researcher that actually this was from the pet food that they were, , bei n g f ed. , so mea ty pet food, I mean, their main diet is macroinvertebrates. It's the, you know, the Beatles, the cat er pil lars, all those sorts of animals and worms and slugs. , but , k no w whe n y o u're supplementing it, meaty pet food, , and the c r ea tion of a feeding station is actually quite useful. , this is a, , upside dow n box of some sort or other please just search online. There are n erous design potentials out there, but it just stops other animals getting it, the food bef or e the hedgehog does. And you may not want to be encouraging the neighbor's cat into the garden or feeding the goals in the morning. Yeah. Let the fo od b e there for the hedgehogs.

Ashley Coates:

Fantastic. , and if you don't have a garden, , y o u k n ow, a lot of pe ople, we 're h earing a lot about people who do n't h ave gardens, I guess. And it must be, there's so much on the internet at the moment about the, of t he joy of being in yo ur g arden. , if you don't have a garden, how might you, how might you help , he d gehogs?

Hugh Warwick:

Yeah, you're absolutely right. And I mean, I, I've, I am very fortunate to have a garden. I just did a , , a , a link up with a family from M oulin in China, , w ith Chinese TV company. They wanted a, , al armingly, they just, they chose us as a representative British family, which, which if you 've ev er met us, you'd find hard to believe. But it was, , a nd yeah, this , th is family and Wu Han had been kept in their apartment the entire time, , a p ar t from grand mome nts when they were allowed to get some exercise. So now w e'r e very , very fortunate to have a garden for those who don't have gardens. There is still a lot that can be done. And I mean, it's a bit more political. It's a bit more campaigning I suppose, but it's working on trying to solve the problems that hedge hog spac e is w orking. I mean, get in touch with, with my petition site, the change.org site , , and sign it and spread the word. Get in touch with your local c ouncils when you see them out a nd about spraying, , g lyphosate along all of the, th e p a ds f or example, or when they are, , , s e nd ing out the teams with mowers and streamers when they're back out doing that sort of thing. Have a chat to your couns elor abou t the way they manage the, the , imm ed iately grasslands and see if they can do that in a hedgehog friendly way. The British had truck preservation society has gotten entir e campaign based around encouraging these teams of people whose job it is to maintain these sorts of lands. , to d o it sensitively. It's do it with hedgehogs in mind and to, you kno w, w hate ver access you've got to any green space, look for the hazards that hedgeho gs might have. If you've got the opportunity to pick up litter, pick up, litter it , all of these little things can hamper the hedgehog's ability to thrive. And yes , you may not be getting the direct benefit of having a hedgehog in your garden, but my goodness, it helps hedgehogs with that chance of surviving. That's great. Well, thank you so much. And of course next week is the perfect time. The coming week is the perfect time to start making some of these new actions. If you can chug awareness week, yes. Third to the 10th of May. And on the 3rd of May , , w e bizarrely, we had never got ro und t o having a YouTube channel. , bu t I've just recorded one of my 45 minute lectures, , c om plete with slides, , a n d , that i s going to be go live on the YouTube site on Sunday. So if you want more information, if you want to see the pretty pictures, you can log onto the British Hendroc k preser vation society, YouTube account and have a r mage. Great. Well, thank you so much and best of luck with next week and tha nks Ashley. Bye bye now.

Ashley Coates:

Bye bye.