A strange multi-mothered world

Last night I watched Jeanette Winterson talking with Alan Yentob on BBC1 about her growing up with the woman who adopted her – and touching on her search for her biological mother. We have met a couple of times and talked at length about the strange multi-mothered world of the adopted. I never tire of sharing the strange stories with others who have been through the same process – everyone is different, yet everyone has the same hole – even if that hole is hidden away.

Ten years ago I was getting ready to go and visit my biological mother for the first time since I was 10 days old. After lunch today I am heading up to celebrate her 70th birthday. Continue reading

Bread hedgehogs

Every Saturday my children make a mad dash for one particular stall at the East Oxford Farmers’ Market … and are aiming for one particular prize. The bread hedgehogs made by the Natural Bread Company. They are soft, tasty and eaten while they play and I shop for vegetables. I love the market – last week I supplied an impromptu lunch party with Brainy Bread from NBC (stunning stuff) along with a pot of tahini and veg topped with chilli heaven. The milk sold by the North Aston Dairy is the only milk I feel happy having in the house – as I know that they love their animals. The same goes for Willowbrook Farm’s eggs.

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The Art of Nature and Protest

What a weekend … again … and this time, not all about me! Two amazing experiences, both very different, but both deeply connected in essence – one a gathering of naturalists and artists in Stamford at the New Networks for Nature, the other, a flashmob of protesters at the British Museum. To be at both was a delight and a privilege – and made me consider the connections in new light.

I was introduced to the New Networks for Nature – and their event, Nature Matters – by the otterly wonderful (sorry) author, Miriam Darlington. Mim is the otter-woman from The Beauty in the Beast, and has written her own amazing book, Otter Country. The New Network describes itself as ‘a broad alliance of creators (including poets, authors, scientists, film makers, visual artists, environmentalists, musicians and composers) whose work draws strongly on the natural environment.’ And was formed from the dissatisfaction in the low political priority placed upon nature in the UK.

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Feeling wrong for smiling …

There are few people who have the capacity to antagonise me as much as Jeremy Clarkson … and it was with real delight that I happened upon him receiving a custard pie in the face a few years ago … 

Fortunately I had my camera ready. So it was with very mixed feelings I found that he was to be presenting Have I Got News For You on BBC 1. They were going to be featuring the newsletter of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in the ‘missing words’ round – but how would our wonderful creature fare at the hands of this objectionable buffoon?

The iPlayer copy of the show will not be up for ever, so have a look now … and if pressed for time, skip along to 25 minutes in – and find that not only did the hedgehogs get a good mention (along with Ann Widdecombe, who, coincidentally, I also caught on camera getting a custard pie in the face) 

Ann is a great champion of hedgehogs, the pie came 12 years ago following some rather unpleasant commentary she had given about asylum seekers. Having met her I have been impressed by her deep love of animals – and it would not be hard to imagine her donning a balaclava and heading off to the nearest abuser with ‘reconstruction’ in mind.

But that is an aside … one of the missing headline clips they used was from an article I had written! Which was essentially based on this blog from last year. “How can we get hedgehogs and whisky into the same thing?” I asked … with a blender, Clarkson retorted … I smiled, felt guilty about smiling, and then remembered his moment with the custard pie and felt better!

What a weekend …

On Friday I got a ‘google alert’ (I get my ego massaged (occasionally) by this wonderful device that I have set to my name) telling me I had been mentioned in the Church Times. It was referring to my performance the previous weekend at the Greenbelt festival. I had been concerned about talking to a crowd of evangelical Christians, that is not my usual audience. And at 5 minutes to show time, when I was already plugged in to my ‘Madonna mic’ (that is what the technician’s there called it …), this was my audience:

What the organisers had not told me was that the doors were shut and, as I returned from a breath of fresh air (and a thought about running away) a stream of people flooded into the room … 255 in total (no, I was not bored and counting during my talk, they had someone on the door with a clicker!)

But back to the review, “Warwick believes that any creature can be a gateway to the love of nature. Meeting a bird or animal close at hand, you gain a precious glimpse of wildness. It’s an almost mystical experience…” I really enjoyed Greenbelt and have asked to come back next year … it is not often you get to preach hedgehog (and other lovely animals) to such a crowd.

Next up on Friday I was asked to pen a quick note for Meet the Species – a final component of the amazing project that also manages the Bristol Festival of Nature – The Bristol Natural History Consortium. So here is that piece – and, to my surprise, I found that they published it with a video of me talking at the Wilderness Festival – a spontaneous (and rather noisy) show ably assisted by the remarkable Amalie.

And on Friday I was also asked if I would help Anne Brummer from the Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue with Wildlife Rocks. I had originally been asked to do a hedgehog talk at this event inspired by Brian May (and you can read more about him in my Olympic Blog) – but then she asked if I would step in and do a little compering … now I was given advice by an experienced wildlife/media person … ‘never say no’ … so I said yes, of course, I would love to … Anne was pleased and I put the phone down thinking ‘oh *&^^$&*’ … in less than 24 hours I would have to learn a new skill. Thankfully my neighbour is the absurdly talented Steve Larkin, stand-up poet, musician and compere beyond compare.

As I arrived at Guildford Cathedral I saw Brian May walking with Anne around the stalls. She beckoned me over and asked me to join the small crowd as she wanted to explain a little more of what was planned for the day – turns out I was not to ‘help’ with the compering but to DO IT – oh, and while there would be the usual thanks and welcomings to do, sometimes there would be a bit of time to fill in – as people got themselves set up … and there were around 24 separate events … so, no challenge there then!

Walking with them was Gavin Grant, CEO of the RSPCA. He impressed me enormously, walking straight over to the Hunt Sabs stall and chatting with them – he is obviously not frightened of the more activist sides of the animal world. And then his talk inside was a brilliant attack on many key issues – including the planned culling of badgers and, delightfully, the fact that the RSPCA is not just taking individual huntsmen to court for breaking the law, but also the hunt itself …and the hunt in question just happens to be the one that David Cameron loves to play with, the Heythrop Hunt. And when they win (well, lets hope) they will seek to rehome the horses and hounds, and sell off the buildings.

So my job was to bounce onto stage, say thank you (often to the amazing YEM Youth Theatre) and then chat to the crowd in the Cathedral for up to ten minutes … I think I managed to hold it together, it was a fantastic experience to have to think on my feet so fast – and also to be meeting the artist David Shepherd, Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation and the actor Peter Egans among many other. Perhaps the highlight, though, was rather predictable … when Brian May took to the stage with Kerry Ellis to perform to an absolutely packed cathedral.

I had forgotten about how famous Brian May is … and after the event he was sitting in an outside tent meeting and greeting and the queue was epic. An hour later his ‘people’ said enough was enough (he was looking exhausted) – but he still had time to help me with a publicity shot to help promote The Beauty in the Beast.

What a wonderful day – I really hope that they are able to hold another event next year, and then I might get to see some of what was going on! Though it was a rather fun challenge introducing each guest and trying to get a mention of hedgehogs and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society each time!

And as if that was not all enough, last night Countryfile on BBC 1 showed the piece they filmed with me a couple of weeks ago about Hedgehog Street. I was a little nervous – I was filmed for Blue Peter a while back and they ended up using less than one sentence. But this time it was great, the programme opened with the hedgehog piece and we got to talk about the major concerns we have for hedgehogs as well as the potential solutions.

To add icing to the cake, they also covered Ivan Wright, the solitary bee man from my book!

You can have a look at the programme for the next 6 days on iPlayer: Countryfile hedgehog programme

And because I like an easy life … I am off to the woods with the children now, then dancing and tomorrow – off to a conference all about hedges …

Gareth Morgan, badger-man

Last night I learned that my badger-man and friend, Gareth Morgan, had died.

I met Gareth as I was writing The Beauty in the Beast – he took me to the sett he had been studying for the past 30 years and talked so lovingly and movingly about the beautiful animals. He loved them, and nature, with a passion and a deep, wise, knowledge.

mid-Wales badger-man

Though he was a very gentle man, buzzing with an energy belying his 70 years, he could be moved to anger and action. As it was in protection of the badgers he loved, when he spoke out about the plans to cull. His anger was directed in large part not at the farmers, but at the supermarket chains that bind farmers into impossible contracts so that they pay the farmer less for the milk than it costs to produce. We walked the fields of his mid-Wales home and he pointed to the grass in what seemed like a idyllic field. But no, his sharp eyes had noted just one species of grass. ‘I detest silage,’ he said. ‘I think it is the worst thing that happened in farming, because that’s why we have no flowers…That is why we have no birds nesting in the fields…This is like Astroturf.’ And there is evidence that the poor quality of food this produces has an impact on the cows and the badgers, increasing the risk of bovine TB.

But mostly, as we sat and watched his badgers come within a few feet of us, it was love that drove him. ‘I love them like I love my wife,’ he told me, without a hint of hyperbole. ‘Sometimes she will ask me not to go up on a night, but it is like a magnet, something pulls me…she thinks I am setts mad.’

I recorded the time we spent together and have made a short podcast of him talking about badgers and featuring his amazing voice – I could listen to him for hours.

It was not just badgers, he was in love with the natural world. And so it was that his last outing, when he died, was to  the osprey project he so loved near Machynlleth. His wife, Marion, told me that he died doing something he loved. And he will be buried in the clothes he wore out in the wilds – his camouflage trousers, old jumper and body-warmer and ‘his dirty old cap’. There will be wild flowers at the funeral and they have had to book the biggest church in Newtown, such was the impact that this wonderful man had on so many people.

I will close this with a few more words he gave me.

‘We’ve got to fall in love with nature. And my badgers and your hedgehogs, they are like gatekeepers to the wider wonder of the natural world. I bring people down here at eight o’clock for an hour and I find I am still here at one in the morning. I get the barn owls quartering the field, probably hunting for the woodmouse that sometimes sits on my knee. And then there was the stag beetle that would come and take peanuts, one at a time. You know, there was a blackbird who would sit on my shoulder and a chaffinch who would follow me from the car to the sett where he would wait for a peanut.’

‘We should be in love with nature; it’s all we have got. I’m coming on seventy now, and I’m not going to be here soon. But for my children and for theirs, we have to do something.’

Dear Gareth, you will be missed.



A myth of urban Britain?

‘The Great Myth of Urban Britain’ was the headline from BBC Home editor Mark Easton’s piece published on 28th June. In the article he argued that conservationists are too pessimistic, and that if you look carefully at the real data, things are not that bad, really.

He starts with a question that will probably flummox most urban-dwellers – what percentage of England is covered in concrete and tarmac? Go on, have a guess ….

You were probably wrong … using as his source the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011), he points out that just over 2% of the country is built on … and goes on to say, “According to the most detailed analysis ever conducted, almost 98% of England is, in their word, natural.”

At the very least this strikes as counter-intuitive – but then looking at the figures he gives, well, it becomes strangely convincing. Does this mean we have cause for celebration? Have the doom-mongers from the conservation groups been winding us up with their intimations of impending disaster?

In a word, no.

I could spend hours deconstructing each and every component of the argument that has allowed Easton to his dramatically, and I would say dangerous, conclusion. But I will use a different ploy … it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have, over the years, learned to shift my perspective a little – as I say in The Beauty in the Beast (quoting someone I can’t remember right now, but if you can, let me know) – ‘never underestimate the revolutionary potential of seeing things from a different perspective’. Shift your point of view to that of a hedgehog, for example, and the deliriously upbeat tone of Easton’s article begins to seem less like a scientific analysis and more like a hack writing what he wants to see on the page.

There are two major errors that have resulted in his excitement … and I admit I have not read every word in report from which he takes his lead, so it is possible that he is reporting and amplifying an error already in place.

First, ‘natural’? Throughout the 87 pages of the summary document there are as many references to ‘semi-natural’ as there are to ‘natural’. I think he might be conflating a little. More importantly, what is natural? Are we looking for areas that are untouched? I think we would be lucky to find 2% unmodified by human action. What degree of intrusion is acceptable for the ‘natural’ tag to remain? In Easton’s argument, the yellow deserts of oil seed rape and the alien fir-tree plantations are bracketed with the last pockets of primeval forest.

And the second mistake is to ignore hedgehogs. The years I have spent worrying over the state of Britain’s hedgehogs has allowed me to see clearly that while habitat loss is definitely a problem, it is only one part of the problem. Most critical is the way that the habitat is fragmented. At its most simple this is a very human-scale problem.

Imagine your garden is the most wonderful wildlife friendly garden. Birds flock to the feeders, dragonflies emerge from your pond (that comes complete with ramps to allow hedgehogs to escape), your compost heap houses bumblebees even more effectively than the bee-hotels you have erected. And in the evening you delight in the bats as they flit in your carefully darkened garden. But you still have no hedgehogs or toads and are getting frustrated at their obvious lack of taste … and then you look at your garden, at the concrete footings that you put in to hold the new fence and it dawns on you – they cannot get in! So, taking a lead from the wonderful Hedgehog Street, you set to work opening up your garden, and talking to your neighbours and then their neighbours and then the street is suddenly a wonderful space for hedgehogs and toads and all the other non-flying wildlife.

But the problem for hedgehogs, and so much of our biodiversity, is far bigger than the gardens that have become so many species sanctuary. We have fragmented the landscape on a massive scale, creating ever smaller pockets of habitats. The fragmentation is caused, most obviously, by roads; their presence and the volume of traffic, (and it is not just hedgehogs that suffer, small birds and butterflies are so buffeted as to be prevented from crossing the arterial routes). And the fields of oil seed rape, which Easton is happy to embrace as natural, can act as just such an effective barrier to movement. As do the fields now denuded of their hedges. Or the hillsides covered in a heavy fir coat.

So why is Easton’s piece so damaging? Because people will want to believe it. And the report from which it was taken has as its main aim an attempt to truly place a value on what we have so that it will be better treated – but when couched in such simplistic terms the authorities will simply grasp with glee the opportunity to argue that ‘increased development cannot be a bad thing, because, look we have so much natural land to spare. And it is only a few ecological eccentrics who are trying to obstruct us from building our way to a brighter future …’

In reality, there is no ‘natural’. But there are areas of wonderful wildlife value that needs our continued protection and this article must not be allowed to sway those who hold the reins of the developers. There is a fight coming, I feel it, between those demanding growth and those resisting growth.

One day, perhaps, economists will be taught the simplest lessons of ecology. After all, as Satish Kumar pointed out in a lecture I heard, they spring from the same word, ecos, or oikos, meaning home. They refer to the management and the study of our home, the planet. But management by economists must not be allowed to take place without the understanding of ecologists. To allow this to happen results in the sort of madness that this article presents.

Hugh Warwick Revealed

Yes – you read that right, I am about to reveal myself ….

A while ago my publishers sent me an enormously long list of impossible questions about myself that I was assured would assist you, the buying public, in deciding to part with hard-earned cash … I was not sure, but went for it – and then, recently, I found that these questions have been incorporated into a website … so here is the most egotistical of posts ….

But then I read through it, and was surprised by what I had written … some of the questions had required far too much thought … others generated answers with which I am quite pleased. So – just in case any of you are wondering what to do with the next 5 minutes – why not have a bash at re-writing them for me! Find ways that will make me more appealing … this could be like a Wiki exercise in crowd-sourced information … and if we make it good enough, well, there will be no stopping me … the world will be mine, all mine …. (exit with megalomaniac laughter still ringing)

cuddles with hedgehogs and other adventures

Just back from the Bristol Festival of Nature and now preparing to go head-to-head with the wonderful Kate Long in a face-off between hedgehogs and water voles … who will win? Why not come and join the fun! Then it is off to Edinburgh with extInked to reveal my leg to the unwitting visitors to the Botanic Gardens.

The Bristol event was a lot of fun and a clear reminder that behind the impressive viewing figures for Springwatch and other BBC wildlife programmes there are real, active people who have a passion to learn more about the world around them.

Before my talk I was interviewed on the BIG SCREEN …. never before have I been so large!


You can just make me out in the top right hand corner!

But it was after my talk about The Beauty in the Beast that the real business began – and it was a salutary lesson. I got a good audience and they asked sensible questions, but when I settled down in the tent with the wonderful People’s Trust for Endangered Species crowds swarmed in …. the reason?










Simple – I was ‘with hedgehog‘ … the lesson learned for me is that however good a talk I give I can never compete with the thrill of meeting a real live hedgehog. This one, Holly, was being looked after by Mary from Hedgehog Rescue. I do not want to become a hedgehog carer, I simple do not have the capacity to manage that demanding job. And I do not want a ‘pet hedgehog’. But I also recognise that the amount of information I could impart to an audience would be enormously increased if I had grabbed their attention with a real live spiky hog …. so has anyone got a brilliant solution to this conundrum?

Get stuffed …

Nature vs nurture?

Before I had children I was rather convinced by the nurturing arguments – but that has been revealed to me as little more than the arrogance of youth! Yes, of course, there is some impact on the child in the way they are brought up – but it is not the whole story.

And how is that related to taxidermy?

Because the more I have got to know my biological mother the more I find out that we are linked in ways that could not have anything to do with nurture – she had just ten days to imprint her character on me … and I can hardly remember what happened ten days ago, let alone in my very first ten days on the planet!

I went to visit her last week and took, as requested, my stuffed hedgehog (about which I wrote a while ago) because she had someone who wanted to meet it …

For many many years her nickname has been ‘badger’ and when a friend found this stuffed one in a house clearance sale, well … it was irresistible. And I got to pose between an asymmetric intraguild predatory relationship …. which, when you have read The Beauty in the Beast, you will recognise as being related to a rather smutty joke.

So it is not a rigorous scientific survey – but over four decades apart and we both have a desire for stuffed British wildlife … along with a passion for music. And apparently I laugh like her father, but at the things her mother found funny. And much more besides. And now she wants a hedgehog too – so if anyone out there has a nice example of prickly taxidermy they want to be rid of, please drop me a line!