Lost Words inspiration …

A friend of mine tweeted at me – suggesting I join in a game of acrostics … This might seem a little esoteric for those not exposed to the beauty of Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane‘s (who has the best twitter stream in the history of twitter … if you don’t believe me, go visit!) new book, The Lost Words – but those of you who have met it will understand immediately.

I was assured that it would be fun … write an acrostic on your favourite animal …

For example twitterer @teacherglitter went with:

Cooperation is ambiguous;
Anomalies of sense and reasoning-
The epitome of singularity.

@eylanezekiel also went for a short one:

Fidgeting flyer
Leaping leech
Endless egg-layer
Annoying accompaniment

@mrfinch flew with this one:

Swishhhh!
Whirls and wheels.
In between the slates and skies,
Fierce poetry of curlicues.
Tumbling out of our world and into heaven’s.

So I had to give it a go. I am no poet – but I do love words and wordplay … as I am sure many of you do too. So have a read of my little effort and then start building your own. Add them to the comments – and I will make sure that Rob and Jackie get to see them!

Hedgebound hedgehogger
Edge-loving follower
Divining routes through roots and leaves,
Grazing on grubs;
Everybody loves you for being so at
Home in your ancient prickly body.
Only now our love is not enough;
Going, going, gone?

11 things you can do to help hedgehogs – #4 will change your life

November always sees a surge in interest in hedgehogs. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, and many others, put a lot of effort into reminding people to check bonfires before lighting them. It is a shame that building the perfect hedgehog home and building a bonfire are so very similar … and poor hedgehogs are unable to predict the outcome.

But avoiding burning hedgehogs is just one part of the effort we need to put into their protection. The campaign Hedgehog Street has collected some top-tips – so have a look now and see what else you can do to help the nation’s favourite animal (that is no hyperbole!)

  1. Link your garden. Hedgehogs may seem small, but can easily cover 1-2km a night. Make sure they can get into your garden; make a small hole (13x13cm will do) … but talk to your neighbours first!
  2. Make your pond safe. Hedgehogs can swim, but not for ever, so need help getting out of steep sided ponds. Make sure there is a ‘beach’ or a ramp.
  3. Create a wild corner. Leave a patch of your garden to become self-willed – see what happens. The hedgehogs will love it.
  4. Dismantle industrial capitalism. Seems like a big ask, but if we are to return hedgehog populations to what they once were, we need to do something radical. Start by reducing the amount of meat you eat – then stopping eating it before becoming a vegan. This will liberate vast areas of the countryside from mono-cultures of animal-feed if enough people join in. We will be healthier, animals happier and wildlife will have a chance to thrive. As for the rest of the monolith of industrial capitalism – I am up for hearing ideas!!
  5. Litter and netting. Tidy up litter that can catch and kill – and make sure garden netting is not touching the ground. Hedgehogs, once caught, will roll up and become further entangled. If not found quickly, they will die.
  6. Food and water. These carnivores need meat. You can supplement their diet with meaty pet food. Water is also crucial.
  7. Stop using agro-chemicals in your garden. Not only do they directly impact on the ability of hedgehogs to live, or thrive, they also wipe out hedgehog food.
  8. Strimmers. Amazing weapons against weeds, but because the hedgehog has no fight or flight response (thanks to evolving their wonderful coat of spines) they do not move when the roaring threat approaches. Check before you flay.
  9. Bonfires. Just repeating what I have already said. Don’t burn a hedgehog. Unless it is roadkill you intend to eat.
  10. Logpile. Build one in your garden. They are brilliant shelter. They attract hedgehog food. They serve so much other wildlife too.
  11. Become a Hedgehog Champion. Simple. Join the nearly 50,000 households who have committed to helping hedgehogs through the Hedgehog Street campaign.(Yes, I know it is out in daylight. This is a rescued hedgehog performing for me at a wildlife hospital. Hedgehogs are, of course nocturnal and that, on the whole, if out in the day, not well and in need of care. Contact your local rescue if you find one … after you have secured it … details on BHPS website)Much of this information is directly from the Hedgehog Street and the website has loads more top tips on how to help the nation’s favourite animal.

The real measure of where we are …

The news – at last – is reporting on something far more important than celebrity tittle-tattle, or even the ravings of tiny-hand-Trump. Following on from the ‘ecological Armageddon‘ piece in the Guardian the Today Programme has also deigned to cover this rather vital story. I wrote about the same research back in May – again in the Guardian … but this is a new paper looking at the data … and how terrifying it is …

My summary included the figure of an 80% reduction in insect biomass found in Germany over a 30 year period. The most recent data put the figure at a 76% reduction in 27 years.

Do you see what that means?

We, quite rightly, become agitated at the thought of the loss of biodiversity, the loss of a species locally, regionally, nationally or globally is a disaster. But we seem to worry less about the build up to that final moment – yet we need to, and that means a focussing of our thoughts on the loss of bioabundance. The ‘great thinning’, as the wonderful writer Michael McCarthy described it in his superb book ‘Moth Snowstorm’, is a previously unreported disaster. But it is the calling card of the Anthropocene, the human generated geological epoch.

We could worry that these are the insects that are important for pollination of food plants, that are necessary for keeping other pest species in control – but this anthropocentric thinking is why we are in this parlous state. We need to grow up and shift our perspective. The loss of biomass – and it should be noted that there has not been an increase in loss of biodiversity in the study area … displaying the weakness of relying on that as a measure – is far more important than what impact it might have on us.

It is bigger, too, than the cascade of disaster that will follow – as the intricate network of life that feeds on each other is interrupted.

The real scale of this is in its evidence of how deeply we have damaged the system of life on which we (a global/multi-species ‘we’) completely depend. Every process of life on earth is a subset of the ecosystem. Yet the very processes that are destroying this system – ‘progress’, ‘industrial capitalism’ or what ever name you give it – assumes, with staggering arrogance, a position of superiority.

I do not know the answer – how we get out of this. But I do think we might be getting to a time where the true scale of our annihilation of life on earth is a subject that is considered worthy of news. And that has to be a good start.

A day (or two) at Hay

It was only afterwards that I realised quite how tense I had become … the tiredness hit me and I still feel I could sleep all day. My third trip to Hay was all I could have hoped for – and a perfect antidote to the awful legacy of my last trip, when I went to talk about The Beauty in the Beast and, thanks to events beyond my control, had to cope with a 0900 slot just after a huge thunderstorm … and had just 16 people turn up …

This time, photos thanks to my lovely wife Zoe Broughton, was wonderful. First there was evidence of my favourite sort of line … a queue!

Oliver Balch was a well informed and generous interviewer – I was not comfortable with the idea as I am used to being in control and just talking … but we ended up properly ‘in conversation’ and I hope the audience had as much fun as we did!

Book signing – lots of interesting additional questions and a surprise visit by friends of my mother (who promise to report back!) – but NO REST – as I had been booked in to do a Four Thought recording straight afterwards.

Again, I was not looking forward to this as I had to read a script that was still being edited just before my previous talk … again, it went so well. Though in both talks, there was a very swift shift to – ‘lets kill badgers, that will help’ style of questioning … I tried hard to be moderate in my response … though the suggestion that I must be in favour of fox hunting as it encouraged lots of hedges got rather short shrift!

So, thank you Hay, it was a blast. And thank you to the amazing people we met around it as well. For example the brilliant, funny and kind Carrie Quinlan – though she did FAIL to mention hedgehogs …

The fascinating cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken with whom I shared the Four Thought stage – and then a lovely evening of food and wine … and who took dear Mati under her wing.

And then there was Anthony Horowitz – despite massive queue that would have kept him signing for at least two hours, he gave time to the children – here with Pip …

Loads more fun and games was had – but that is plenty for now. If you have not been before, I recommend a trip to Hay … even if you are not an author (access to the Green Room was a rather special treat!).

Kindling again …

The idea of the Kindling stage at Wood Festival is straightforwards. I recruit speakers who are passionate about thinking and action and give them 30 minutes and an audience. The fires of revolution will not take without a little kindling …

And this year, well, it was the ‘Year of the Hedgehog’ at the festival. The amazing Nick Cope had been coerced into writing a hedgehog song – one that happened to feature a hedgehog called Hugh. I even got invited onto stage with him when he performed it, so I could talk a little to the audience about hedgehogs … and when I asked them what hedgehogs did when frightened, well, this is what they did!

Hedgehogs featured everywhere, on the programme, in the craft tent and clearly in my tent. Despite my latest book only just having been published I used the opening slot of the 16 to talk about hedgehogs.

Blessed by the clouds opening, I got a great crowd. Thanks Zoe for photo.

I am not going to go through all the speakers, who were all fantastic – here is an indication of what you missed (if you indeed did miss)

Here are a few highlights …

Steve Larkin is part comedian, part musician, part poet and he brought all three bits of himself along to the tent. He videoed himself and I hope that sometime soon there maybe a recording …

Helen Baczkowska talked on the subject of England’s common land – it was utterly fascinating, intelligent and accessible. It was one of the talks I would have been happy to let over run (but I am a ruthless host).

I was also ruthless this year in kicking out regulars (sorry!) but really it was great to get in so many new faces and voices. One of the only repeats was Lucie Mayer – who has been coming every year to talk about her dream of creating a City Farm for Oxford. And each year there has been a story of massive obstacles, slight progress, irritating bureaucracy and dedication. This year was different. They have signed a 40 year lease on hand not a frisbee throw from my front door.

Kate Sudweeks I know firstly through dancing but more recently as a writer. She was working with a group of girls that included my daughter – a sort of coming of age group – and gave her a copy of the book she had written. Mati loved it, so I recommended it to an agent, who has since gathered Kate under her wings and I hope for great things … So Kate brought writing to the tent and offered it up less as a way of communicating (what I try to do) but as a form of healing. It was impressive.

I have known Helen Edwards for years – when I photographed her dancing with a Butoh troupe I thought I had found her ‘edge’. But no, she is always pushing and this year, in January, she did a ‘Dip a Day’ raising money for homeless charities in Oxford. Swimming in rivers or the sea, ever day, takes some dedication.

Literary agent Jemima Hunt came and talked about how to sell a book – this could have gone on for ages too as she generously gave of her time and roped in my agent – James Macdonald Lockhart too. He was there with his wife, Nichola Deane and the musician Ben Avison to capture the wilds in music, poetry and prose. Clover Stroud talked movingly about her wild love and her new book, The Wild Other. The heart and other wonders featured in Caspar Henderson‘s introduction to his new book. And Kindling Housing Cooperative came and talked about the challenges and successes of setting up an alternative to the daunting conventional housing situation.

Tom Moorhouse manages to juggle being serious ecologist at University of Oxford and a highly successful author of children’s books about animals. So did I get him hear to talk about the minimum viable population analysis he did for us on hedgehogs? Or about water voles, rats and toads?

And last, Sasha Norris, who came equipped with hedgehog, owl and rats, that entranced and entertained while she educated.

Wood was awesome – wonderful people in a great setting – thanks to all who made it possible.

John Lewis and the fake hedgehog!

My friends know me well – and it was not long after the new John Lewis Christmas advert was launched this week that they were telling me on social media about one of the ‘stars’ – a bouncing hedgehog.

If you have not seen it yet, the advert stars an enchanting boxer dog called Buster which can’t wait to bounce on the trampoline his six-year-old owner Bridget receives for Christmas.

The dog is seen watching from a sitting room window on the night before Christmas as all sorts of wild garden animals frolic on the trampoline, which is wrapped in a red bow in the garden, as Bridget sleeps upstairs. There are a couple of foxes, a badger, a squirrel … and a hedgehog, all jumping away as Buster looks on, missing the fun.

johnlewis3

Now, I know something about hedgehogs. I started studying them over 30 years ago, have written two books about them and am a vigorous advocate for this most wonderful of all Britain’s creatures. So I pay great attention when they appear in something so grand as a John Lewis Christmas advert – which has become as much a fixture in the calendar as an EastEnders Christmas fight.

And what is not to love about it? Doting parents, dotty Buster and amazing computer-generated imagery of wildlife having a party. The story is perfect – the energy and glee of the child is brilliantly captured, though I do have to question the ease with which she settled down to bed on Christmas Eve. 

Criticising the John Lewis advert is like admitting to having a hobby of sticking pins in puppy’s eyes – and I completely accept that doing so may result in my social death. But … it’s the wrong sort of hedgehog!

flying hedgehog john lewis

The hedgehog that features is one of the African hedgehogs that have been bred as pets mainly in America and they are very different in form to our wild European hedgehogs. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are, as their name suggests, smaller than our European ones. They can come in a multitude of patterns with the spines being pale, white, brown or even piebald. Our ones are always a greyish brown and utterly unsuitable as pets.

It is not the first time I have spotted this mistake. There was that Ribena advert last year. Great music, robins and rabbits and geese all featured and the company made great play of sourcing their blackcurrants from a bucolic Britain. But the hedgehogs they used in the advert? Again, pet hedgehogs and the wrong species.

Ribena hedgehog

Sega, the company behind Sonic the Hedgehog video games have fallen foul of this as well. In 2010, they backed an advert drawing attention to the declining wild hedgehog population, which featured a hedgehog crossing a blue and white zebra crossing, complete with lollipop lady – and three of the four stunt hedgehogs they used were of the wrong sort.

Sonic the Hedgehog lollipop lady

Does this matter? Or am I just being a hedgehog nerd?

Well I would argue it does matter. These ‘cute’ hedgehogs kept as pets are often abandoned. Owners can’t cope with their nocturnal activities – hedgehogs go to the loo on the move and when running on a wheel often get covered in their own faeces so have to be cleaned every morning. They are covered in prickles and, unless really well reared, potentially quite bitey. Which all means they can end up in hedgehog rescue centres blocking beds which might be used by their wild European cousins.

But perhaps more importantly, their use in the John Lewis advert is a reflection of the way we regard our native wildlife.

It would be a shoddy advert that used an image of Buckingham Palace when talking about the Palace of Westminster, for example, or the Mona Lisa when discussing the works of Botticelli. So why do we not pay as much attention to the very real natural wonders that we can find in our garden?

Was this carelessness or ignorance? The advertising company, Adam&EveDDB, claim their aim in the John Lewis advert was not to represent any particular species, as these animals are all ‘mythical’ anyway. Hallie – they’ve given the prickly little creature a name – is apparently the computer-generated imagery result of a composite of hedgehogs, though none of them European I fear.

The complaints that the advert has generated are more about the other species, though. The effective campaign of hatred against badgers and foxes has manifest in considerable ignorance, reflected in worries of the badger giving children TB and foxes attacking sleeping toddlers.

Foxes and badgers are among my favourite animals. Some of my first memories of wildlife came from the thrill of being watched by a fox. I remember hiding in the hedge in the fields behind my parents house in Chester, I would have been 8 or 9, and getting the sense that someone was looking at me and turning, slowly, expecting to see a person, and finding I was sharing a gaze with a fox.

The excitement of seeing a badger crossing your path at dusk is very real, they always seem much larger in the half light. And of course, I would not have spent 30 years studying and writing about hedgehogs if I was immune to their charm.

Now to the tricky bit – badgers and hedgehogs cavorting together? Well, I get regular links to videos sent to me from trail cameras set up in gardens that show hedgehogs and badgers feeding together, or in one memorable instance, the hedgehog scaring off the badgers.

When there is a rich source of food this does seem to happen. But, this is not, and forgive the joke, a black and white issue. For while we know that badgers eat hedgehogs, and we know that where there are increasing numbers of badgers, there are decreasing numbers of hedgehogs, it is actually a more complex issue. 

Badgers and hedgehogs are primarily competitors – they both eat worms and other invertebrates like beetles and caterpillars. But when the environment changes, when there is less of this food available, then predation can be a problem.

These two species have lived together since at least the retreat of the last ice sheet around 10,000 years ago. It is only now, because we humans have placed pressures on their habitats, that the hedgehog suffers from the attentions of the badger.

And while foxes would be hard pressed to tackle an adult hedgehog, they too are known to injure them and kill the young. Though it is not thought that they have an impact on the population as a whole.

Can we ‘blame’ these larger carnivores for their action? Nature can be rather red in tooth and claw, but nature can also be wonderfully adaptable. If we want, as I most certainly do, to see more hedgehogs in the wild we do not need to go attacking badgers and foxes, but instead should look more widely at improving the lot of all wildlife.

Hedgehogs face many problems at the moment. Their population has declined by around a third in urban areas and up to three quarters in the countryside. There are many factors at play.

The roads busy with cars kill thousands and chop up the landscape, stopping hedgehogs moving about.

Fields given over to industrial agriculture, smothered in agrochemicals and stripped of wildlife are no home to hedgehogs.

Even in our own gardens, lovingly tended for beauty, birds, bees and butterflies, we sometimes forget about the more interesting beasts that snuffle in the night.

This is why we launched the Hedgehog Street campaign. The collaboration of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is encouraging us all to think more about hedgehogs, and as a first step, make a small hole, only the size of a CD case, into our garden fences so that these prickly beauties can move.

hedgehog hole

In a rich environment, with plenty of food and shelter, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs can co-exist. These are not fantasy environments. We used to have such a countryside, and we can have the potential for similar diversity in our gardens, if we are willing to take the time to ‘think hedgehog’. 

It does not take much – a compost heap, leaf pile, escape ramp out of the pond, not forgetting those hedgehog-sized holes in fences and walls – small enough to keep out badgers and foxes.

So does the scene on the trampoline represent a vision of garden harmony? A deliberate attempt to show us some sort of ecological utopia?

Or is it, as I rather expect, like the choice of Hallie, an African hedgehog – done without any thought for our natural surroundings, but because it is cute and might just get us to spend a little more in the store?

Growing connections …

Hedgehog Street is a brilliant and simple idea – don’t just make your garden hedgehog friendly; talk to your neighbours, get them ‘onside’ and then make a hole in the intervening fence.

Habitat fragmentation is an under-appreciated threat to wildlife conservation. The presence of individuals of a species can lull one into believing that they are okay – but if they are present in numbers too low, this can mean that the population is ‘functional extinct’ – that it will just die out.

There has been some very interesting work done on ‘viable populations’ – especially with regards to hedgehogs – and it has revealed the surprising amount of land that these little creatures need. In the best habitat possible (imagine an ecologically managed golf-course with suburban gardens backing on to it – all with holes in fences) – there needs to be at least 90 hectares of unfragmented land … that is around three 18-hole golf courses … Now when was the last time you found that sort of scale of unfragmented land?

Hedgehog Street is a brilliant and simple idea – yes – but it is only a seed. It would be a rare street that could command that sort of area. And this is why the new movement around the country to take the seed and allow it to blossom is so exciting. First there was the ‘Hedgehog Improvement Area‘ in Solihull – then I have been involved with launching Heaton’s Hedgehog Highway

Hedgehog

and the North Oxford Hedgehog Conservation Area – which has already seen some lovely new holes appearing (thank you Cherwell Boathouse)

hedgehog hole

There is a project growing in Suffolk and a couple of weeks ago I got to run a hedgehog ‘masterclass’ at Chester Zoo as they launch their Wildlife Connections event. They made a short video around an interview I gave (after speaking for 5 hours … hence bags under eyes and husky voice!)

I like the circularity of this work – we need to make connections to allow hedgehogs to thrive – and the only way to do that is to make connections within our community – talking not just to neighbours but to people further away – and to the institutions who help manage the tracts of land in between.

We might not be able to agree over the EU – but we can all, surely, come together to work for the improvement of the life of the hedgehog.

The Hedgehog hokey-cokey

In or Out – as with previous elections it is important to learn from those nearest and dearest to help inform your decisions. As we have seen before, hedgehogs have a natural tendency of hedgehogs to vote Green, but the looming referendum presents a slightly different range of questions …

Hedgehogs are, mostly, fairly grumpy, solitary and smelly – so you could be forgiven for thinking this would suggest they were natural bed-fellows of Nigel Farage. They are a quintessentially British animal, we revere the hedgehog and it is the most popular species in the country – it is, therefore, important to know the truth.

And the truth is rather straightforward. For all the faults of the EU, for all of the very well paid bureaucrats and for all of the waste that comes with shifting offices back and forth there is a measure that we cannot ignore, and the hedgehogs most certainly do not.

Politicians in this country, particularly those on the right, HATE restrictions on ‘development’. Cameron declared a desire to ‘get rid of all that green crap‘ – or at least is alleged to. That ‘green crap’ is the fine line that keeps the biodiversity in this country as protected as it is – and if it goes, there will be an unfettered assault on the natural world. Roads, agriculture, fracking and housing will lose some of the very minor shackles that keep them in check.

The EU is flawed, but being outside it will see much of what we love threatened to an even greater extent than it already is. And this might be enough for a hedgehog to decide. Remember also that our hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, is the Western European Hedgehog – it is an animal of Europe.

But there is one other argument that must be considered. Who would you rather have round for dinner? Nigel Farage, Nigel Lawson, Boris Johnson or Michael Gove? Or Caroline Lucas? This is actually one of the easiest decisions of all!

Caroline Lucas

 

Kindling 2016

Another year, another Wood Festival – and another tent filled with the thoughts and passions of amazing people. My little empire, a small geodesic dome, has become one of my favourite places. I get to invite people to speak on subjects that interest them – and the results, well, while it is not as carefully crafted as a TED talk, can be rather special.

I won’t go through everyone – but here are some of the highlights.

George Monbiot – I have been wanting to get him here for three years now – so glad he came and spoke on the theme of rewilding – he opened proceedings, thus setting an impossibly high marker for following acts in terms of eloquence and audience …

George Monbiot

George Roberts stepped into the breach when I found that my second speaker was unable to appear (while my first was on stage) – thank you George for poems that continue to startle and sparkle.

George Roberts

Merryl Gelling was given the chance to talk about Oxfordshire’s mammals (she is chair of the Oxon Mammal Group of which I am the world’s least attentive member) – she was assisted in her presentation by her very own small mammal … who sort of stole the show! Lovely to hear about otters making their way back into Oxford – and one being seen right by the Hinksey swimming pool!

Merry Gelling

Great to have news of the update of the success of the Oxford City Farm in getting planning permission from Lucie Mayer – she has been and talked each year about their plans – now it is really happening.

I had booked in Tom Burnett on a recommendation but had not followed up what he planned to talk about very well – so I thought it was about playing football in Palestine … which it was, sort of … but it was also about the plight of Palestinians who are finding themselves subject to a brutal regime. He went out with the Bristol-based social club – the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. As he pointed out, yes, there are some idiots who shout about wiping Israel off the face of the earth, but for the majority of Palestinians, there is a desire for peace – painting them all with the same brush is like assuming all Americans are represented by Donald Trump.

Easton Cowboys

Saturday night is always tricky at Wood – working hard all day means I feel I have earned a pint … but I have to work hard the next day too – and in this instance also had to get up at 0630 to ensure my son was bathed and smart for choir duty … which was always going to be a challenge.

Tiger facepaint

However, I managed it while having fun too – highlight of the night – Xogara.

Xogara

Sunday – bleary Sunday – came with a shock of sun. When you run a tent like Kindling the rain can be your friend, driving people in for cover … damn you sun … but still there was a demand – for Richard’s didgeridoos!

didgeridoos

I was very disappointed that the entire field of the festival did not descend to see Stevyn Colgan – he is one of the QI elves – witty and with a voracious need to know things, he was wonderful. Buy his book! He is as close as I am ever likely to get to Douglas Adams or Stephen Fry …

Steven Colgan

Following on was Charles Foster – his latest book, Being a Beast, is magical – eccentric and transcendent nature writing (I think I said something like that for the book cover) – how does it feel to be another animal? Not an easy task to accomplish – and I will be finding out more from him when we share a stage for the Oxford Festival of Nature on the 8th June.

Charles Foster

How to become a climate rebel was the mission of a quartet of mischief – Danny Chivers, Sheila Manon, Phil Ball and Richard Howlett … tales of derring-do from blocking Heathrow runways to months in a Russia prison – but what is the best way to tackle this global issue? They were brilliant, challenging and entertaining.

climate rebels climate rebels 2

Somewhere along the way I talked about hedgehogs – I packed up my tent on Monday lunchtime – it is now Wednesday afternoon and I am still shattered. The Kindling tent makes me equally happy and tired! So, who will be on stage next year? Will Robin, Megan, Claire and Joe Bennett let me back in? Leave a message if you have a story to tell.

Badgers and hedgehogs – again ….

hedgehog picture

Tuesday night was interesting. I had been invited to talk to a public meeting organised by Devon and Cornwall Against the Badger Cull – about hedgehogs.

I was, to be honest, apprehensive. I know that some badger lovers can be quite defensive about their beasts. And while I have been very clear – in The Beauty in the Beast – of my love for brock (nearly got a tattoo of one) – I have also had to contradict many badger-fans who think that they would never eat a hedgehog.

My companions on the panel were Dr Chris Cheeseman (ecologist and expert on bTB) and Dr Mark Jones (vet working with the Born Free Foundation). I was to speak last – following their detailed look at the failings in the management of this disease – and deal with a question that is thrust at campaigners many times – ‘what about the badgers eating all the hedgehogs?’

One of the reasons that this annoys me is that it is clearly nothing to do with the badger cull. A cull that was set up to protect wildlife would need an entirely different research base on which to justify it. The call to protect hedgehogs is often coming from people who have only recently discovered how much they love them (because they can be used to beat up badgers) – it is a deeply cynical move.

The cull is supposed to be helping control the spread of bovine tuberculosis from badgers to cattle. From the words of both Chris and Mark it is clearly doing nothing of the sort. The highly respected and extremely detailed Randomised Badger Control Trial showed how, with an exacting set of protocols, it was possible to gain a 12-16% reduction in the incidence of bTB in cattle over 9 years (5 years of culling, 4 years of extra surveying) if badgers were killed at a rate of 70% in the clearly identified zone.

animals_only copy - Version 12

Culling in a different way will produce different results and the scientists are sure that what is happening now will generate far less in the way of benefit to farmers and cattle. In fact it is quite possible, probable even, that the current action will be making matters worse as the perturbation effect will cause infected animals to move far greater distances.

The evidence is clear, the cull, as it is being done now, will not benefit farmers or cattle. Yet despite the case being put with thoroughness, the farmers in the room would not hear it … despite seeming to acknowledge many of the most important facts.

Two things were clarified for me during this discussion. First – the only way to survive the extremely hard work of farming is to be bloody stubborn – to be as obstinate as the most recalcitrant bull. Farmers tend to be friends with farmers, so the stubbornness rarely gets challenged. The conservative view of the world this engenders does not react well to outsiders coming in and trying to change how things are done. Therefore it is up to us, critics of the cull and elements of industrial agriculture, to find better ways of communicating.

The second point I realised is that when we get hung-up and defensive about the messiness of ecology we quickly lose focus. Yes – badgers do have a population level impact on hedgehogs. But the cull has NOTHING to do with hedgehogs – the cull, in its current form, is nothing more than a carrot being offered to the farming community.

If we want to see more hedgehogs in this country there are ways we can make it happen without resorting to the gun. For example, where there is Higher Level Stewardship of the land (part of the Agri-Environment Scheme), there are more hedgehogs. The more of this ecologically aware farming that goes on, the more food there is in the environment for both badgers and hedgehogs and the greater complexity there is in the landscape.

Lets not scapegoat the badger for our own failings – and remember, it is ours – we are the people (apart from my vegan friends) who demand cheap food and are unwilling to pay the real price at the till. If we don’t pay a decent price for our food there will be payment taken from the environment – and if we don’t want that, we need to change the way we shop.