BBC Breakfast – with added milk and bile

So, yesterday was interesting: the afternoon before I got a call from BBC Breakfast asking if I would appear on their (apparently famous) sofa to talk about the way the weather might be affecting hedgehogs – with a hedgehog. I said no – to the hedgehog and to the interview request as Saturday was my daughter’s 13th birthday party and I had to be there and the interview was in Salford. But it turned out if I drove, got to a hotel sometime after midnight, did interviews and jumped back in car I could, motorways allowing, be back in time … so I began a mad few hours of driving.

I ended up doing three interviews – the presenters, Charlie and Naga, were very good at being interested and engaged and it felt comfortable. Each interview I tried to make a little different, even though the audience does change I have since found out. I talked about the threats that hedgehogs face, about the need for habitat, food and connectivity, about the work of BHPS and PTES and how best to rescue a hedgehog seen out in the day – it was clearly getting to the presenters who were becoming really engaged, and I ended up being told I look like a hedgehog – on BBC1 – which might just overtake being described as ‘eccentric’ in the House of Commons.

Happy, exhausted and ready for a party, I got into the car and called up Fay from the BHPS … who dropped a bombshell – I had caused an eruption of anger because I had said two things … that hedgehogs under 450g will die during hibernation and that hedgehogs will eat bread and milk. And that this was being interpreted as me saying hedgehogs are fine at 450g and that we should feed hedgehogs bread and milk … I drove off feeling rather angry – how could people be so stupid to get wound up by this – surely they just need to listen to the words I said and not leap to their own conclusions.

Near Birmingham I stopped at a service station and checked in with my wife – I told her about the furore and she said, ‘I thought it strange you did not mention the lactose intolerance, you always do’ … and that third interview slowly re-emerged in my memory – starting to say that hedgehogs will eat bread and milk (I am so often asked this point – it is true, they will) and then being rushed on by producer gesticulating, getting distracted and not finishing the sentence.

I clicked open twitter and Facebook – and found something fascinating … had people really thought I advised feeding hedgehogs bread and milk? Who knows, but the really unpleasant series of comments that were being made was so deeply revealing of the audience I had upset … more on that in a moment. But first to the facts …

Hedgehogs will eat bread and milk. Hedgehogs cannot digest milk and it can make them ill. Wild hedgehogs eating a proper diet who come across a plate of bread and milk will not drop down dead if they eat it. Captive hedgehogs fed nothing but bread and milk probably will die. So clearly it is stupid to put bread and milk out for hedgehogs – they are carnivores and need meat.

As for body weight and hibernation – there are lots of people writing to me telling me that hedgehogs have to be 600g or 650g or other … to survive hibernation. I was simply making the point, based on the research of Pat Morris, that a hedgehog less than 450g will die …. I added that if they weigh more, then that is better.

The most significant revelation of this saga is – not that I forgot to say a phrase about lactose intolerance or raised the debate about release weights of hedgehogs – but the really nasty spirited people who lurk on social media. I admit I, to borrow a politician’s phrase, mis-spoke – but the bile that followed made me question something that has for so long been important to me – the deep respect I have had for those hedgehog rescuers I had met around the country.

This is aimed at those who found time to spout mean words in my direction (and I thank those who have written to me in support, upset at the attacks) – how can you spend so much time sat on social media and getting so irate when you have also spent so much time saying how you have no time because of all the hedgehogs in your care? I find that the hardest working carers tend to be the ones with the least social media activity. The attacks were designed to be bitter, hurtful and unkind. Many were not seeking clarification, nor were they acknowledging that there were three interviews, and that the bulk of the interviews were talking about hedgehog conservation.

I am deeply disappointed in the (I hope) minority of hedgehog carers who I ‘met’ yesterday. The snide, divisive and occasionally dim reaction to my mistake makes me worry about the community I am associated with. And I know I am not alone in being on the receiving end of such a frenzy – it is not an attractive characteristic.

Looking after hedgehogs and other wildlife is a massive undertaking – and I respect those who do it. But that does not give you liberty to behave with meanness in mind. I have, for many many years, been one of the most vocal advocates for the work of hedgehog carers – I talk and write at length of the wonderful work that is done. Hedgehogs are special animals, they allow our care and should, I would think, bring out the best in people. Let us see what sort of comments appear below …

15 thoughts on “BBC Breakfast – with added milk and bile

  1. Hugh, I only saw the last interview and have to admit I was surprised (and disappointed) you didn’t mention lactose intolerance, but then my partner and I discussed the interview and it was really clear that you had such a short space of time to get across a number of important points. We’re not in any hedgehog forums but we do run a hedgehog rescue and noticed some pictures emerging throughout the day about bread and milk and hedgehog weights, but could only guess what was going on in the background on said forums.

    I am really sorry that you have been subjected to personal abuse. I would like to say that not all carers are like that and most of us do appreciate the work you are doing to get the plight of hedgehogs in the public forum. I know you do an awful lot of TV and radio interviews at short notice and we are seeing more articles in papers and magazines about hedgehogs. We are also experiencing more knowledgeable hedgehog finders, who are helping hedgehogs now because of all the media coverage as they understand the issues a lot more. You compered a brilliant day at #hogcon15 where a lot of amazing and interesting research was presented.

  2. I only saw the last piece, and it was very obvious that you were really rushing to fit in what you wanted to say! I wish people would realise that the important thing is to raise awareness and engage people, which you did brilliantly; the debate over precise hibernation weights may be fascinating for us carers but it’s hardly the most critical thing for the general public!

  3. I was really shocked when I heard you mention the bread and milk and not expand on that. It was clear that you were being rushed, but it was an unfortunate mistake. It’s a pity some people have upset you. I expect they too will regret that when they think about it.

  4. I am stuck squarely in the middle here. On the one hand, I have also done interviews and am well aware that bits get taken out, bits get misquoted and you sometimes get cut off in your prime. I also understand that the multiple slots mean you are wracking your brains to make sure you don’t keep covering the same things until you realise that actually, that is no bad thing as people might actually hear what you are trying to say.

    As a rehabber, I also understand where the masses were coming from yesterday although I was surprised at the level of venom that came with some of the comments. What you don’t see but we are well aware of are the number of people still feeding hedgehogs bread and milk. Some, when it’s explained to them, will stop immediately, others tell us flat out that they have been doing this for years, their hedgehogs are fine and we don’t know what we are talking about. Until fairly recently some at the RSPCA call centre advised putting the hedgehog under a hedge with “a nice warm bowl of milk”.

    What nobody sees, are the awful consequences that we deal with regularly when these animals arrive here. It is truly heartbreaking especially when you know it’s a deliberate act, sometimes misguided, often well meaning. In fact, I had missed the broadcast and the chaos as I was dealing with a vomiting juvenile that had just arrived accompanied by “the rest of the milk it had to eat last night”. She died. Confusingly, the phone then became red hot with queries about hogs and milk and I subsequently discovered the ‘culprit’.

    The weight issue is another thing that has been discussed ad-infinitum and I’m sure you are well aware of my stance. Yes, the research in a lab in Germany shows that a 450g hedgehog can survive hibernation in absolutely perfect conditions but giving that out as a straight fact, without all the provisos that go with it, which you never have time to do whilst live on the ‘drive times’, is going to cause problems, not just for the 450g hedgehogs but also for the unfortunate that mentioned it in the first place.

    I have found, on balance, that unless you have time to get your point across properly which needs to be agreed with the producer in advance, that it’s best to avoid the contentious stuff. People don’t listen, they hear a bit of what you say and tag their own preconceptions onto it, and yes that covers public, rescues, and rehabbers.

    I think where we need to go in order to move on is to agree that we are all trying to save these animals. The ecologists, book writers, researchers etc, need to take into account a lot more that:
    1. the rescues are at the sharp end, dealing with the animals and the public. We see the excesses and stupidity of some people.
    2. that, not all rescues are bunny huggers, tree huggers and all the other things we get called. We do have valuable information that the researchers could use, real world stuff not set-up for the research.
    3. that most rescues, rehabber and hospitals are happy to work with the researchers and share their info if the researchers actually ask for it in the first place.

    The rescues need to understand that:
    1. the researchers can contribute valuable information that enables us to provide better care for our animals and also a better chance of survival once they do return to the wild.
    2. they are, after all, the ones with the time and resources to sit in the middle of cold, wet, golf courses chasing radio-tagged hedgehogs.

    From my current position here on the fence, it is pretty clear that some researchers are nuts and some rescues are fruit loops but hopefully, we can arrange things so that the twain can meet for the benefit of the animals if not our sanity.

  5. I do get somewhat annoyed with the attitude amongst many carers that what they do is somehow more important or more difficult or more at the “front line” than what researchers do. It isn’t. Having spent a lot of time volunteering with people working on lots of different conservation projects, they are at least as hard working, dedicated etc as carers. Ultimately, however hard we as carers work, hedgehogs as a species are not going to survive in the wild unless we improve their habitat. That’s not going to happen without research or without people like Hugh getting into the position to influence decision makers. Carers need to realise that they are just one part of the solution, instead of thinking (as many seem to do) that they are more important than everyone else.

  6. I have done hedgehog rescue for around 20 years and last year joined a hedgehog forum, and like Hugh wondered how folk could be on the Forum 24/7 and pontificating about the correct way to treat casualties, Autumn juveniles etc. and getting hot under-the-collar with anyone who suggested anything different!!
    I decided to carry on with the important matter in hand, – the hedgehogs – and stop wasting my time, as I did not learn anything useful!
    I began to wonder if they were carers at all but sad folk with too much time on their hands.
    Learning from another lifetime hog carer, and reading your books and others was much more helpful and less stressful!

  7. I’m so sorry that you’ve been subjected to unfair comments, Hugh. I do hope that it won’t put you off giving interviews, which is so important at getting the message at there. Thanks for all your hard work & dedication. This is just a blip!

  8. It was disgusting the backlash you received from getting out there and making people aware. The forums are a bullies playground and I will never go on them but learn from you and Vale. This is my 11th year running a rescue and an extremely busy one. I’m lucky to have around 20 volunteers who get me through horrific times like your having now. Keep doing what you are doing because you make a huge difference to the public and rescues like mine.

  9. I only saw your last interview and admittedly you were only given a very small slot of time to get your point over but from the viewers perspective I’m sorry to say it certainly seemed that you were saying bread and milk was the usual hedgehog diet (although you did mention pet food). It is obvious from your blog that you did not intend to give this impression and that you have been very upset by the reactions you have received. I’ve been a member of BHPS for many years and have read lots of hedgehog books (and have ‘A Prickly Affair’ in my collection) so was shocked that you of all people would even mention bread and milk and I have to admit that I shouted a big ‘Noooooo!!’ at the telly! I just look after the hedgehogs in my garden and try to pass on good advice from the BHPS to friends etc so I can imagine people who give most of their time and money rescuing and caring for the hogs would have been very upset that the wrong information was given to a few million viewers who have no idea what to feed them.
    You went on BBC Breakfast to try and help hedgehogs and mostly you did just that, it’s just unfortunate that you mentioned the dreaded bread & milk in that last slot but look on the bright side at least a whole load of people are talking about hedgehogs and will now know what they should and should not be feeding them. I’m really sorry I missed your two previous interviews.

  10. If people aren’t listening properly, they might jump to the conclusion when they hear “Hedgehogs will eat bread and milk”, that it’s ok for them to do so. Given half a chance humans also will eat enough of the wrong food to shorten their lives, just like the hedgehogs, But they shouldn’t. So listen properly in future, all you folks who have been so horrid to Hugh.
    Some people just get a big buzz out of being rude, and it’s difficult but best to laugh when they do, and say Thanks. One thing I’ve noticed, I’ve always been a rather prickly person myself, and though I don’t look after hedgehogs I do have lots of cacti.

  11. Hi Hugh, I had no idea of the backlash after your interviews – I think they were a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of hedgehogs. In my experience, no matter what you do, even when you have the best intentions and you do your very best, there will always be “haters”; people that have nothing better to do than put you down and say awful things. Just shake them off and don’t let them bring you down. Just remember what an amazing thing it is that you do.

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