On this empurpled day in our nation’s history, it’s shameful to note that there was no mention in the party manifestos or leaders’ debates, or any of the horsetrading that’s gone on since last week, of anyone’s policy on hedgehogs.
I’ve been reading Hugh Warwick’s A Prickly Affair, so this glaring omission seems particularly apparent. Lots of interesting stuff in there, including the observation that we are sentimental about hedgehog roadkill partly because the body count seems deceptively large. This is because their spiny coats remain visible for much longer than other animals, which tend to be quickly scavenged by crows and gulls, so we notice the hedgehogs more.
But mostly I learnt – which is why I’m repeating it on this blog – that hedgehogs are everyday, suburban animals, the prickly residents of Acacia Avenue. As hedgerows vanished and prairie farms expanded with the emergence of agribusiness after the war, and much of the countryside turned into a wildlife desert, hedgehogs retreated to the rich and varied habitat of suburbia. ‘Lawns – hedgehogs must have really thought the gods were smiling when they discovered lawns,’ writes Warwick. ‘Short legs mean wet tummies, but mown lawns means easy walking and no need to go grunting through undergrowth as worms pop up conveniently to the surface. And then those benevolent gardeners would sometimes put out food as well – and who cared if sometimes it was not quite what they would normally eat.’
But now there is a dark cloud on the hedgehog’s horizon: patios, decking and front gardens concreted over to make parking spaces are eating away at its suburban Elysium. Sadly, although many of them live in the marginal constituencies of middle England, there are no votes in hedgehogs.
I’m doing a talk about On Roads at the Kenilworth Festival on Saturday (15th), if anyone is in that neck of the woods and fancies coming along.