In the 1980s my Father’s fortunes improved somewhat and we made the move from our crowded ‘two up two down’ terrace house in Edmonton out to the leafy suburbs of Enfield, North London.

I can well remember that first night in our new home being awoken by a strange grunting, squealing noise that rose up from the front garden. The noise was like no other I’d ever heard before and sent me rushing into my parent’s room to warn them of a possible intruder.

My father listened behind the curtain to the strange sound and then peered out and down. Initially he thought there was a courting couple ‘making out’ on our neatly trimmed lawn but the night was far too dark to make out exactly who was making the unearthly noise below so he grabbed a torch and with some trepidation I followed him down the stairs and outside. Quietly he unbolted the door and then, quick as a flash, he snapped on the torch. The pool of light didn’t illuminate a young couple’s illicit tryst (I’m sure much to Dad’s disappointment) but it did, however, reveal the source of the sexual sounding cacophony – an amorous pair of hedgehogs!

That was my first introduction to the species and we soon discovered that hedgehogs seemed to be everywhere in the neighbourhood – in fact they were very much part of mine (and I’d imagine many others’) 70s/80s childhood.

From the school programmes that featured a pair of cartoon hedgehogs teaching us how  to cross the roads in safety to the all-too real aftermath of what would happen if we didn’t pay enough attention while doing so, the hedgehog gave us a valuable lesson in life and death. This was especially evident with the many sad, little, squashed corpses that littered the roads – the unfortunate victims of a speeding Austin Princess or Allegro.

So, it was particularly shocking to discover the terrifying statistic that hedgehog numbers have crashed from 36 million in 1950 down to a paltry 1 million today and even more worrying for me was seeing ‘experts’ leap upon this freefall in numbers and smugly attributing it to ‘climate change.’

Yes, our climate is changing. Climate has always done so and the jury is still out whether this recent change is driven by man or a natural cycle of events. After all this country has experienced similar events before during what has been dubbed ‘the little ice age’ we suffered some very cold periods; one beginning in 1650, another starting around 1770 and the last in 1850. All of these cold periods were separated by periods of intense warming and, funnily enough, our tough, spiky friends survived all these times of tumultuous change.

One thing that is undeniable however is the horrific crash in hedgehog numbers that is being driven by man’s activities and all talk of ‘climate change’ could be a dangerous smoke screen and a convenient excuse for our government to do nothing tangible to tackle the real problem and help reverse the downward spiral in our hedgehog population.

For, surely, the cause of such a catastrophic decline (a cause shared by a number of our iconic species) lies not in ‘climate change’ but in  the grubbing up of 118,000 miles of hedgerow (which, like the decline in hedgehog numbers, has occurred since the 1950s), the overpopulation of our island (something very few PC naturalists are brave enough to bring up or tackle), the consequent eating up of land and open space for yet more houses, roads and railways and the smothering of acres more land under concrete and tarmac to provide ‘essential’ car parking and shopping malls.

The homes being thrown up on our once ‘green and pleasant’ land do not resemble the spacious 1930s semi-detached home I moved into as a child with its lawned and flower filled front garden and its tree-lined large rear garden. Sadly, the mantra in house building today seems to be ‘how to squash the most number of dwellings onto the smallest possible plot’.

Gardens (if they are provided at all) are postage stamp sized and often surrounded by an impenetrable fence. The lawn is now deemed ‘too much hard work’ (although judging by our populations ever growing waistlines getting out and mowing the lawn once a week could be a valuable form of free exercise) and it is often the first casualty, quickly being covered over with ‘time saving’ decking or paving.

No longer can one walk through the streets of most towns and suburbs and admire the front garden plantings of roses, delphiniums and hollyhocks. The main dominating feature of most front gardens nowadays is usually a shiny Golf, Fiesta or Astra standing on a solid bed of concrete or thick black tarmac.

Those who are fortunate enough to own and maintain a decent sized plot are also prone to the ‘quick fix’ attitude that seems to pervade modern life, falling for the adverts that continually bombard us in summer proclaiming “Banish this weed”’ or “Kill this weed at the root”. Little thought seems to be given to where these chemicals could possibly be going although, one would imagine, they are going into the soil. And, what is one of the favourite foods of our humble hedgehog? Yes – earthworms.

Their other favourite happens to be slugs and, once again, we find a vast market offering slug pellets with many combating these slimy pests by liberally spreading these pellets around their tender plants such as hostas.

Surprisingly, given the over-proliferation of wildlife charities, there doesn’t appear to have been much research into the effects of bio-accumulation in the hedgehog.

We all need to pay attention to the hedgehog’s decline. The species is an important environmental barometer and it is telling us that something is very, very wrong in Britain today. I do not believe ‘climate change’ is the reason that is nudging this little creature ever closer towards extinction in these isles. No, once again, it is mankind’s selfish actions that are the main cause and what is so frustrating is, if we all adopted just some of the small changes (such as those advised by the excellent Hedgehog Society), we could so easily turn around the fortunes of this much loved animal and maybe, in turn, halt the decline of other worm/slug/lawn dependent species such as the bumblebee, song thrush and starling.

Action is needed NOW. Covering the countryside with wind farms and other ‘climate change’ busting ideas won’t help the hedgehog. We all need to take notice and learn from the plight of Mrs Tiggywinkle for failure to do so could have serious consequences for us all.

 

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