HedgeOX

While the website is being constructed – here is a little more about what is planned:

HedgeOX – Saving Oxfordshire’s Hedgehogs

Hugh Warwick, known to all as Hedgehog Hugh, launches an innovative new campaign to save the nation’s favourite animal at Oxford’s Natural History Museum 12th June at 6pm. HedgeOX, funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and the Felix Byam Shaw Foundation, invites all to come along and learn how they can become part of the solution to the problems hedgehogs face.

Ecologist and author Hugh began working on hedgehogs over 30 years ago and has remained passionate and fascinated about them ever since. Working with the Hedgehog Street campaign – the collaboration between the BHPS and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species – he has been at the centre of both research and conservation efforts.

“We know that urban hedgehog numbers are down by 30% in the last 17 years – and that for rural hedgehogs it is even worse, with the population down by 50-75%,” he said. “Hedgehog Street has been helping urban hedgehogs and there it looks like the decline for them is levelling off. Rural hedgehogs present a whole new set of complications that we are now looking at more closely.”

With HedgeOX Hugh has got another mission in mind. “Oxford has been my home now for nearly 25 years now – and the county has a wonderfully diverse set of potentially hedgehog-friendly habitats. Yet the population has fallen as much here as anywhere else. I want to reverse that decline.”

The main work is in over-coming fragmentation – this can mean making sure there are holes in garden fences (the size of a cd case will do) through to encouraging farmers to plant more hedges and allowing the ones that are there the space to grow to make hedgehog highways and habitat.

There is no way he can manage to convert the whole county into a hedgehog-friendly space on his own. So a key aim of HedgeOX is to recruit Hedgehog Heroes from around the county. People who know their own patch and are willing to work with their neighbours to expand the areas within which hedgehogs can thrive. Hugh will be on hand to provide expertise and guidance – and also, given his reputation for energetic and entertaining lectures, recruitment of other volunteers too.

With tongue in cheek he is developing a ‘Hedgehog Roadshow’ that will take to the highways and byways of Oxfordshire in the Autumn – so if you want to get Hugh to visit, drop him a line.

“Hedgehogs are the most amazing, delightful, charismatic and important creature we have in this county,” he said. “You can get close to a hedgehog in a way that you cannot with any other wildlife – and this closeness means we get a chance to look into the eyes of a truly special animal. And once you have done that, got nose-to-nose with a hedgehog – well, there is no turning back! You will have fallen under the spell – and are on the fast-track to becoming one of Oxfordshire’s Hedgehog Heroes.”

A hedgehog from the Little Foxes rescue centre – soon to be released into the wild.

The Felix Hedgehog Project

Felix would have been 16 today. And tonight we are going to celebrate his life with the launch of the Felix Hedgehog Project.

I never knew him, but his mother, Jane, got in contact with me last year to talk about about her son, about his love of wildlife and in particular his love of hedgehogs.

He died two years ago after contracting meningococcal septicaemia. Jane told me the story as we sat in a cafe in north Oxford, we both started crying. The pain she was experiencing was intense, but so was her passion to do something positive, to create a lasting memory for the boy she loved so much. We talked about hedgehogs and she asked what she could do, in his name, to help.

The plan we came up with was absurdly ambitious, I thought. After examining a map of her ‘patch’ it became clear that there was an area of over 100 hectares, bounded by the River Cherwell, the Banbury Road, the Marston Ferry Road and the city centre. An area that was full of large gardens and playing fields.

The scale of this area is important. Recent research from Dr Tom Moorhouse of Oxford University’s WildCRU showed that, in the very best hedgehog habitat, a viable population needs an unfragmented area of at least 90 hectares to thrive. And this reveals a significant probable cause for the dramatic decline in hedgehog numbers in Britain. Where are hedgehogs going to find such a large space un-bothered by fences, walls and busy roads?

Our project, Hedgehog Street, has been a wonderful start – nearly 40,000 households have signed up. But how many of them are going to be able to open up enough gardens to reach that magic figure of 90 hectares? Clearly it is better that holes are made to allow hedgehogs to move, but we need more than just a street. And this is why Jane’s work at communicating with her neighbours has been so crucial. We have the potential space to open up.

But … there is a problem. Many of these gardens are bounded by substantial brick walls – double thick and well set in deep foundations. How were we to meet the first and most important component of the Hedgehog Street manifesto – to make a hole? Again, undaunted, Jane set to work and found a serious drill to tackle the walls with which there are no other solutions. So impressed with the hole, the local press have been down to see what she has been up to, and also written a short piece to accompany the launch of the project to the wider community this evening.

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                            photograph: Oxford Times

The work won’t stop with tonight’s event. Neighbours will come and enjoy wine and canapés, suffer me talking about hedgehog ecology and being encouraged to take a more active role. The Dragon School is going to find a ‘hedgehog officer’ among the children. We hope that the college, Lady Margaret Hall, will also start to consider their gorgeous grounds with hedgehogs in mind.

Jane has recruited a volunteer, Nadia, who is launching a survey of the gardens before the work begins and she will be ensuring that everyone who comes is signed up to help. This will be repeated in a year to see if there is a notable change.

And as the good folk of north Oxford enjoy an evening in their gardens this summer, and they hear the tell-tale snuffle of a passing hedgehog, they should raise a glass to the memory of a boy who loved hedgehogs.

A charity has been set up in his memory. For more details, please visit their website.