Breaking news …

I think you are not allowed to release new polling data on the day of an election, but as you will probably know, hedgehogs are notoriously slow at responding. So it is only now that the results are in and I can reveal the startling news that ….. hedgehogs around the country are near unanimous in voting Green.

There was a time when many hedgehogs were seduced by the silvery words of David Cameron – he promised the ‘greenest government ever’. But then he imposed the arch-enemy of the natural world, Owen Paterson, as Environment boss … for a short while hedgehogs thought this was some sort of elaborate joke – about like Donald Trump running for the Whitehouse … until the truth emerged and ‘all that green crap’ started to be dismantled.

As George Monbiot said: “The final shred of credibility of “the greenest government ever” has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter. The appointment of Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary, is a declaration of war on the environment, and another sign that the right of the party – fiercely opposed to anything that prevents business from doing as it wishes – has won.”

There was a time when hedgehogs were tempted by the moderate words of Nick Clegg – he seemed so reasonable on all the key issues – friends to everyone. Whatever happened to him?

A few generations ago I met some hedgehogs who were partial to new Labour – Tony Blair, bright-eyed and evangelical was seducing some of the suburban hedgehogs into thinking that he might present a solution to the massive housing shortage that has followed rapacious industrialisation of agriculture. But he turned out to be just like all the others too.

Clearly there are some hedgehogs who are rather insular in their outlook – who do not take kindly to incomers (all those African Pygmy Hedgehogs, coming over here and clogging up the internet with cute buck teeth, or setting up cafes). And for them the easy lure of the fascist had, for a short while, the potential to swing a few votes. But even hedgehogs are not stupid enough to vote for UKIP.

And that leaves, for hedgehogs in England at least, only one option – it has to be the Green Party. They are the only political party to have a deep understanding of what underpins everything we do – and that is not the economy. It is the ecology on which the economy rides. As the ecological economist Herman Daly said:

“Once you sit down and draw a little picture of the economy as a subset of the larger ecosystem, then you’re halfway home as far as ecological economics is concerned. That’s why people resist doing that,” he says. “That means you would have to say well, there are limits, we’re not going to be able to grow forever. That means the economy must have some optimal scale relative to the larger system. That means you don’t grow beyond the optimum. How do we stop growing? What do we do? These are very threatening questions.”

Without this rudimentary understanding of the way the world works, no political party can be trusted with power. So – if you can – get out there and vote Green – it is what the hedgehogs would want!

 

 

Ecological disrespect

The disrespect given by the news to matters ecological was made even clearer to me just now. I had a call in from BBC Radio 4 World at One – they wanted me to present a one minute guide to why Hedgehog Awareness Week was important and give examples of what we could do. They stressed that they wanted it to be humorous.

Sounds like my kind of challenge, so I said yes and pointed out that if I could manage to get John Humphreys laughing on the Today programme (yesterday) I am sure I could give them what I wanted.

Oh dear … the producer had to go away and talk to her editor because they can’t use someone who has been on the Today programme so recently.

She called back – and it was all off … despite the fact that I talked yesterday about the impact that HS2 was going to have on the hedgehogs of Regent’s Park … not about how and why we should make our garden’s hedgehog friendly.

Now imagine this was a story about economics – about banks and money? Or even about politics? I listen to Radio 4 a great deal and the same voices come on repeatedly talking about these topics. What is so different about hedgehogs?

Some years back I tried pitching something about hedgehogs to Radio 4 – ‘we’ve already done something about hedgehogs this year’ was the response.

And this does not have to be hedgehogs – but all issues ecological seem to be considered ‘light’ – not serious news. Only when there is a real economic impact – flooding and just possibly climate change now – is there scant attention paid.

I have said it before and am happy to repeat myself. We need to treat ecology with the same seriousness as we do the economy. Just because the politicians are so myopic as to not be able to see more than a term of office into the future it should not be the case that we ignore the long term. And by looking long term it is clear that only an utter moron would ignore the ecosystem on which life on earth relies.

The news is able to help set this agenda, if it were a little braver. They would treat wildlife and our shared ecology with respect and allow the news of the disastrous impacts our actions have to be given airtime. Instead these subjects continue to be disregarded as real news. Maybe I need to set up my own media channel – WildNews perhaps – that will give proper attention to the fragile system in which we live. Never mind markets up or down – how about a species count – new ones found, others we have driven to extinction. Or carbon dioxide ppm in the atmosphere? These are the metrics by which we will live and die.

Stardust

We are all stardust – every atom of every molecule that makes up our bodies comes from a dead star (apart from the hydrogen and helium that are the result of solar fusion). It is just that some people have more starry stardust than the rest of us.

As a campaigner I do like to think that our issues should achieve public and political attention on their merits – that the importance of the subjects should be enough. But that is naive. We always need more; we need luck, certainly, but we also need a little bit of the magic that comes with stardust.

And that is what was happening today in Portcullis House in London. This is the building that houses the offices many MPs and their staff, and it is also has the room that saw the launch of a new campaign to help hedgehogs – Amazing Grace. This is the latest part of the work started by Brian May and Anne Brummer’s  Save Me Trust, which has, until now, focussed on badgers and foxes.

I have been campaigning to help hedgehogs for years. Working with the BHPS and PTES we have the very successful Hedgehog Street campaign that now has nearly 40,000 households signed up as Hedgehog Champions. But despite that, it would be a push for us to get hold of a room in the centre of the parliamentary world and pull in a series of MPs of all different political persuasions.

Many were avowedly keen fans of the hedgehog – but it was the chance to see Brian May perform the song Amazing Grace with the wonderful Kerry Ellis.

Brian May and Kerry Ellis

And also a chance to get good publicity being photographed with someone generous with the stardust.

Oliver Colville, Brian May and Kerry Ellis

It was Oliver Colvile (above) who started getting parliamentary attention for the hedgehog. And there was a good show from the Tories. But it was the SNP who were out in force – here are a couple I snapped – Patrick Grady and Patricia Gibson.

Patrick Grady

Patricia Gibson

 

We know who supported this campaign and we know who came to share in the stardust – so lets hope that they live up to the promise they have made to help hedgehogs – and to recognise that we will NOT tolerate the plight of the hedgehogs being used as a weapon with which to beat badgers … as I have written before, this is a complicated ecological relationship.

I almost forgot to add – there was also awesome cake:

Hedgehog Cake

Many thanks to Brian and Kerry and all the wonderful people at Save Me who made this happen – it is lovely to get a sprinkle of that dust too!

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.

Dirty money and great work

Why do oil companies fund the arts?

Is it because the oil companies are massively generous? Or is it because the oil companies see it as an investment … and if so, what are they getting in return?

These are important questions. Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to be alerted to occasional ‘interventions’ at oil sponsored events by ‘artivists’ – art-activists – who have taken the theme of the performance or exhibition and turned it into a critical piece of performance themselves.

The first target I heard about was the campaign against the sponsorship of the large Shakespeare festival by BP – this lead to some delightfully crafted performances performed on stage – always before the play started – and often met with a warm response from the audience. The RSC has dropped the oil money.

In Tate Britain Lady Macbeth came to life in a beautiful impromptu performance – with disturbing revelations about the role of BP – ‘Is this a logo I see before me?

Lady Macbeth at Tate Britain

Then I got to photograph two Viking interventions at the British Museum – they even managed to get a 10m longship in, despite there being enormous security (and Thor being arrested!).

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Given all this attention it was obviously going to be impossible to get an oil rig into the museum – wasn’t it? No!

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Tate Modern has not been immune to the attention of protesters disturbed at the use of art to greenwash the image of BP. I was lucky enough to happen upon a beautiful scene as Malevich’s Black Square came to life.

Malevich Black Square

And when Tate dropped BP money – I was there at the party too.

Tate liberated from BP DSCF2549 DSCF2556 DSCF2563 DSCF2611 DSCF2625

Working with art-activists is such a pleasure. The work is thought through, nonviolent and gently confrontational. It is work that has generated great results too – but absolutely no complacency. Only last night I got to go and see the latest intervention as three actors took to the stage before Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra was due to begin a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet … and thanks to the delay caused by conductor Valery Gergiev’s rehearsal over-running, the audience thought, for a short while, that they were officially part of the show … though the balcony scene featured ‘Ramira and Juliet’, a gentle dig at Putin’s homophobia (its not a phobia, just nastiness). Again, the use of the arts to try and gloss over the murkiness of the oil industry was not allowed to happen.

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The amount of money the oil industry gives to the arts is disproportionately small compared to the exposure they receive. While investment from central government is stifled, it is easy to see why the arts would turn to the easy money – but there is a great cost attached. There is a moral cost that will continue to be illuminated by courageous and creative art activists. The money comes stained with the blood of generations gone and yet to come. Dirty money has no place in sponsoring great work.

 

Hedgehog Cafe!

I have covered a lot of hedgehog stories over the years – and helped generate them too. There has been, as I am sure you will have noticed, a recent and definite upswing in hedgehog output in all forms of media. This is not by accident. The more I can get hedgehogs into people’s consciousness the more likely we are going to be able to see the necessary shift in attitudes that might just slow and reverse the decline in numbers of this charismatic beast.

But even I have been taken by surprise with the latest offering … today the media is full of the Hedgehog Café in Tokyo. My facebook and twitter feeds have been full of people asking me if I have booked a trip there yet.

For those of you who have missed it, here is a short film from the Guardian. And if you can’t be bothered with that, well, here is what goes on – there is a café in Tokyo where you can have your coffee in the company of a hedgehog … simple as that. Not just any old wild hedgehog though, they have a very strict door policy. These are all pet hedgehogs, bred from a couple of species from African that are known as ‘pygmy hedgehogs’. The craze for this started in the USA in the early 1990s and swiftly became big business with breeding pairs exchanging hands for eye-watering fees. Different colour patterns were obtained through selection and now there is a wide range on offer – from albinos to patterned. I wrote about this in my first book, A Prickly Affair – and even got to visit the International Hedgehog Olympic Games! The photo is, obviously, of the sprint event …

The sprint at IHOG 07

Do hedgehogs make good pets? Well, if I had one I could probably be booked out all year long giving talks and letting people pet the prickly bundle (if I was lucky and had a nice one … remember, these solitary, nocturnal animals that like to run all night on a wheel while defecating, resulting in a rather messy hedgehog and cage). But I do not have a hedgehog – for those very reasons. And also because I am a relay big fan of WILDlife – I love our wild hedgehogs and I would hate to have attention pulled away from them and onto a pet. We do not own wildlife and we should never think that we do – we are part of wildlife and do well to remember that we are dependent on wildlife for our own well-being.

What we need to do is to pay attention to the work being done by Hedgehog Street – learn how to held hedgehogs in our gardens, learn how to share our hedgehogs with the wider community and appreciate the wonder of this animal.

Would I go to the Hedgehog Café? Well, if they bought me the ticket, I might just do so – if these are well cared for pet hedgehogs they will be fun to handle. I just would not want to have one myself. However cute they might be …

 

North Korea as a hedgehog …

Back in 2014 my third book was published. Hedgehog – part of the Reaktion series of monographs examining the iconography of different animal groups is, in my humble estimation, rather fun – and it allowed me to uncover facets of the hedgehog I had not even imagined were possible … so strange were some of them that they ended up forming the basis for my show at the Brighton Fringe last year … very much an adult only event that one. Who would have thought that researching this charismatic animal would so swiftly lead one into the seedy world of very odd pornography … let me introduce you to ‘The Hedgehog’ … aka Ron Jeremy:

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It was an innocent mistake – I was trying to find some research on penis length in the hedgehog … take my warning, do not google that question. Though his re-imagining of the Mylie Cyrus song ‘Wrecking Ball‘ is something that is worth a watch … if you have a strong stomach (and are tone-deaf).

The reason for this post is, that despite years delving into the many worlds of the hedgehog, I am still being surprised by new versions of the stories that accompany the animal. Yesterday I followed a link to an animation from North Korea that tells the story of a plucky hedgehog (North Korea) seeing off an offensive tiger (USA) – not being able to understand what was said, I have probably missed some nuance, but it is well worth a watch just to see how the hedgehog can be used to portray pretty much anything – from porn stars to dictatorships!

Please let me know if you come across any more peculiar hedgehog stories – thanks.

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 …

Hedgehog Hotel

Between Christmas and New Year, while all good hedgehogs should have been hibernating, ITV (eventually) got around to screening the glossiest of programmes about the prickly beasts. I admit to being very nervous about watching it – ready to be enraged at the stupidity that usually infects programmes on the one animal I know a bit about. I have developed a bit of an over-reaction to humanity’s graduates phoning me up from TV companies asking inane questions and demanding access to a hedgehog to film at 11am on a January morning …

So … I think this will count as my first TV review … and I must admit to a degree of connection – having met with the production company a few times, trying to steer them away from silliness, and am also a patron of Vale Wildlife Rescue, the wonderful centre that was used as a base for filming.

Some may balk at naming all the hedgehogs – but I can’t, as I did when I was researching them … and Jane Goodall named her chimpanzees, so that amount of familiarity is really quite reasonable. There were some shots that I found truly novel – like the swimming hedgehog filmed from underneath … BUT … it was clear that this was a set up shot, and having seen the team who made it at work, it will have been done many many times, and begins with a hedgehog ‘falling’ into a pond. There is no doubt that a little assistance was given – and this must raise issues regarding the stress the animal was put under. In their defence, there was a good message about ensuring water features have an escape route – a slope, beach or rocky margin that will let the hedgehog climb out.

Some in the hedgehog rescue world who get absurdly irritated about references to hedgehogs eating slugs – of course they eat slugs – they just do not do it to the exclusion of tastier morsels. And to say that hedgehogs don’t or shouldn’t eat slugs is just the sort of bonkers non-science that undermines our capacity to speak with some sense of authority.

So it was good to see the same behaviour I witnessed out in the wilds of Devon being repeated on camera – a hedgehog rolling a slug to scrape off the mucilage.

Then came something laughable – hedgehogs hate the rain???? Having spent months in the field radio-tracking hedgehogs – seemingly almost entirely IN THE RAIN – this has to be questioned!

I loved the section on hedgehog vocalisations – I wonder if anyone has heard European hedgehogs making the same sort of fluting, whistling noise I heard an African Pygmy Hedgehog make though ….

The section that had images of a hibernating hedgehog caught on a thermal camera I was deeply suspicious about – either to its veracity, or if true, how it was done without compromising hedgehog welfare.

Wonderful to see Hessilhead in the show – and Baldie was great. Though I was less convinced that a single spine could support the weight of a hedgehog.

Another bit of fiction then annoyed me, where a hedgehog was clearly just tipped off a rockery to get the shot of a falling hedgehog. Oh, and then ‘mating’ … have to say that was a low point. ‘Tiggy’ clearly did not relax her spines enough for the activity caught on camera to be a mating – that was an attempt, certainly, but unless this was a particularly well-endowed hedgehog, intercourse would have been unlikely!

Lovely footage of youngsters and news to me about the saliva licking. Gill Lucraft, from Hedgehog Bottom rescue, did really well and then there was a good a sensible piece about threats and badgers – though the section of a mum and young felt very staged.

So, over all? I though this was pretty but thin. For an hour long programme there was not that much in it … lots of repetition, lots of ‘what you will see after the break’ fillers and I did not like the obvious staging of events, but understand why they did it. I also wonder about the economics of making such a programme. I witnessed one section being filmed, when there was a Hedgehog Street Party in Chipping Norton. Three camera crews filming for around 5 hours (each) to generate 15 seconds of the programme? At least they included my stuffed hedgehog!

I feel that it was a shame the programme makers did not see fit to mention the groups who have been doing so much work to help hedgehog conservation in the country – i.e. BHPS and PTES – other than in the very small and fast moving credits. It would not have been much to add a reference at least to the Hedgehog Street project. And on a slightly egotistical note – I was disappointed that they had forgotten the vast amount of information that I had given them … a thank you would have been appreciated.

The Day (Week? Month?) of the Hedgehog

I knew it would be a busy time, running up to The Day of the Hedgehog. But I had not counted on the extra impetus the hedgehog would receive from a bumbling MP speaking in the House of Commons in an adjournment debate on 10th November.

The day before I had been busy briefing the Defra Minister, Rory Stewart, in anticipation of Oliver Colvile’s statement. Stewart was sharp-whitted and keen to learn. I explained how the hedgehog was threatened in two different populations – rural and urban. How rural hedgehogs were suffering from a lack of food and shelter – and urban from a fragmented and diminished habitat. Yes, badgers are part of the problem, but it is wrong-headed to ‘blame’ them as many in his party are keen to do.

The debate began with bumbling … and some rather feeble attempts at humour. But at least it got the hedgehog being discussed in parliament for the first time since 1566. Here is the transcript from Hansard (scroll down to the end) – and here is a link to the video of the event. Perhaps most significant to me was the fact that I have now been mentioned in parliament, recorded in Hansard – and referred to as ‘eccentric’! Who would have thought?

This debate sparked off a mini-media-tornado and I got strapped into a studio in BBC Oxford the next day as part of the ‘General News Service’ – a system whereby all the local radio stations around the country can book an interview with one person – by the end of the day I had done 13 interviews … the last one from the offices of my son’s choir … and on being overheard it was said I sounded like I was on ‘Just a Minute’ …. I knew I had little time, I knew that if they asked a question it would just waste what time there was … so I just spoke. All the time promoting the up and coming event of the year – The Day of the Hedgehog!

Just to add to the excitement, the day before the Day – the Friday I was heading up to Telford – I got a call to be on BBC Politics – BBC2 – first time in ages I have done the solo TV studio – and so disconcerting, knowing that the people who are talking to you can see you, but you cannot see them …

And no, this is not a studio on top of South Park (for those familiar with Oxford, the backdrop must always generate a little concern …) The interview went okay, I think – though Zoe Williams, from the Guardian, was on as a pundit and proved herself to be embarrassingly thick … Here is a link to my moment of fame (52 minutes is where it starts to get interesting)!

The Day of the Hedgehog started, for me, with the publication of something a little different – a feature not by me, but about me, in the Daily Telegraph – I had had a wonderful time with the journalist Martin Fletcher back in August, going to a WI meeting, linking up with researcher Lucy Clarke and spending time at Vale Wildlife Rescue.

And the actual meeting? Over 300 people had a brilliantly managed day (I was not part of that side of things – much respect to those at the PTES and BHPS who did so much work beforehand to make it work so well) – and I got to jump up onto the stage and thank the speakers before welcoming on the next ones. All of whom kept to time (something I really appreciate) – all of whom were fascinating, articulate and entertaining. We could not have had a better gathering of people. And around this, I managed to sell over 60 books! So all in all, well worth the time and effort I think – would be great to hear from you if you were there and either agree with me, or have concerns … and if you were not there … would you like us to organise another ‘Day’?