Hedgehogs, heroes of the garden

Hedgehogs are far from exotic – but we should treasure these spiny creatures, says Hugh Warwick

A A A

In the beginning, there was a hedgehog called Nigel. I can remember the exact moment we met. It was 1993, and I was doing a research project for the RPSCA in which I was studying the behaviour of hedgehogs in the wild after they had spent time in captivity. I was based in a field on the border of Devon and Somerset, and was monitoring the mammals' movements using radio tagging – attaching miniature transmitters to their spines – and noting their progress. It involved living on my own in a caravan in the middle of nowhere, but it kick-started my love of these tiny insectivores.

In the middle of one night, I had finished work at 4am. My only water source was outside, so I needed to get up to venture into the night to clean my teeth. That was when I first saw Nigel. He was snuffling around outside, and I recognised him immediately. I'd first met him several weeks earlier during the tagging progress, and was immediately struck by his speed, so I decided to name him after the racing driver Nigel Mansell. I watched him for several minutes, and when he wandered off I followed him. After about an hour, he came to a halt, and I laid down opposite him. And then something strange happened. He looked up at me, and seemed to notice me for the first time. I looked into his eyes. It was then that I got a sense of his genuine wildness. It's not something that you experience very often. You never really get close to wild animals normally. And so began my love affair with these enigmatic, beautiful, eccentric creatures. From working with hedgehog preservation charity HogWatch, recording the current number of hedgehogs in the British Isles, to becoming a life member of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, hedgehogs began to captivate me.

Many people believe hedgehogs are ubiquitous in Britain, but in 2007 they were added to the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), a document compiled by more than 500 British wildlife experts and one of the most-respected reference sources on endangered wildlife. Nowadays, their population in this country is estimated to be as low as one million. This is a problem. In many ways I think hedgehogs hold the key to our nation's rediscovery of nature. Unlike wildlife charities' traditional "poster animals" – often called charismatic mega-fauna – like lions and whales, you can actually get close to hedgehogs. They are a gardener's best friend. They love eating slugs, caterpillars and beetles, vacuuming up unwanted invertebrates. The fragmentation of our landscape – through the replacement of hedgerows with fencing in farms and gardens – has destroyed their natural habitat, epitomising man's domination of the landscape, an encumbrance which is reflected in his negative effect on the world through climate change.

And then there are their positive effect on our mental health. "Natural Thinking", a report published in 2007 by the RSPB, presented evidence that suggested contact with nature and green space has a very positive effect on our way of thinking. Richard Louv, an American author, has identified "nature-deficit disorder", a condition which affects our modern selves. That phrase makes utter sense to me. I strongly believe that through caring for hedgehogs we can feel better about ourselves.

If you are lucky enough to have a garden, see if you can encourage a hedgehog in as a visitor. But they can be pretty fickle, so don't expect them to stay. If you want to create the perfect hedgehog garden I would suggest the best thing you do is a little less gardening. Make the garden more like hedgehog habitat, have a corner that is a little wilder, make sure that hedgehogs can get in and out. My advice is to get a hammock, a blanket and a gin and tonic and sit quietly, waiting and listening to the tell-tale sounds of a snuffling hedgehog. And when the hedgehog has come to your garden a few times – or perhaps when several hedgehogs have visited (unless you mark them with a little dot of paint, it can be hard to tell them apart) – try your luck at getting closer. See if you can approach quietly enough to allow them to continue feeding. Get a better look at them. If natural light is not strong enough, a red torch will help. And as you get closer, just think, very few people take this opportunity to get really close to a really wild animal. They would rather jet off on safari to see a lion lazing under a tree, than get nose-to-nose with a hedgehog. I know which I think gives you the better wild experience. Maybe you could get close to the moment that Nigel and I once shared.



Hugh Warwick was speaking to Rob Sharp. The paperback of Hugh's book, A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs (£9.99), is published tomorrow by Allen Lane. To order a copy for the special price of £9.49 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk

News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities teacher required for ...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIRED - Humbe...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are looking for a Qualified C...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits