Wednesday, 25 November 2015

National Day of the Hedgehog: can the prickly favourite be saved from extinction?

Hedgehog numbers have dropped from more than 30 million in 1950 to under a million in 2015. Martin Fletcher meets the men trying to save them

By Martin Fletcher

12:01AM GMT 21 Nov 2015

It is dark and raining. Two figures – a man and woman – move quietly through the trees and fields surrounding Hartpury College in rural Gloucestershire. They track this way and that. With a powerful torch, they search the land around them. Periodically, the woman stops, holds an aerial above her head and listens for beeps on a transmitter.

An onlooker might mistake these two nocturnal prowlers for poachers, perhaps. Or thieves. Terrorists, even, in this day and age. But they would be wrong. The pair are simply seeking to ensure the survival of one of Britain’s most endangered animals: the humble hedgehog.

"A new estimate released today says that their numbers have declined by a further half in rural areas, and a third in urban areas"

The man is Hugh Warwick, the country’s most prominent hedgehog champion. The 49-year-old ecologist admits to having conducted a ‘passionate affair’ with the spiky little creatures for three decades. From Devon to the Outer Hebrides, he has spent countless nights tramping the countryside in search of them. He has written two books on them, including the definitive history of hedgehogs in art, music, literature, philosophy and the media.

He is the public face of the 11,000-member British Hedgehog Preservation Society. He speaks about hedgehogs at schools, universities and Women’s Institute meetings up and down the country. He has a hedgehog tattooed on his ankle. He once journeyed to a remote region of central China in a fruitless search for his namesake, Hemiechinus hughi, a hedgehog so rare that only 12 sightings had been recorded in the past century.

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