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Book review: A Prickly Affair – My Life with Hedgehogs, by Hugh Warwick.

22nd November 2019

I’ve always had a soft spot for hedgehogs, growing up they were one of the only wild animals I experienced living in a built up suburban area of Newcastle. I can remember my dad shouting there’s a hedgehog outside and me bounding down the stairs to catch a glimpse of this little ball of spikes. This was the 90s and early 2000s, things have changed since then. I don’t remember the last time I saw a live hedgehog.

So Hugh Warwick’s book, My Life with Hedgehogs, caught my eye when I spotted it in the Hancock Museum library. The first part of this book titled “Them and Us” was certainly an amusing read. Hugh details how he ended up voyaging into the world of hedgehogs and then essentially never leaving and it’s not hard to see why. They are the most endearing wee creatures and from all the hedgehog rescuers and rehabilitators Hugh talks to it is clear I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Every book I loan from the NHSN library always teaches me something new and this book was no exception. It was news to me, for example, however naïve it may sound, that hedgehogs do not actually need to hibernate. If it isn’t too cold and there’s plenty of food around they may choose not to. This information comes with the added news that various experts and rescue centres around the UK have unanimously informed Hugh that hedgehogs are hibernating less, if at all. Hugh ponders over whether this could be related to the warming planet and given this book was published in 2008 I fear that any pattern noticed then may be an awful lot more drastic now.

As with most books there are always sections that are less enjoyable to read than others. In this case I found this to be the parts of the book where Hugh travels to America and meets people keeping particular hedgehog species as pets. He even visits the Hedgehog Olympics! Personally, I can’t deny that I was glad when this section of the book was over, like with many things in this world it felt like there were just too many humans at play. I guess I like my hedgehogs wild, what can I say?

A theme through the book which Hugh has written in the front cover of the NHSN copy is that hedgehogs can save the world.

Obviously with zero context this statement may raise a few eyebrows but Hugh reasons that the vast majority of us are never going to get close up to an elephant or a tiger but hedgehogs provide that entry into nature for so many of us. It reminded me of listening to Chris Packham’s Desert Island Discs where Kirsty Young asks him to explain his comment that the rarest thing to see in the British countryside is a child. Chris goes on to explain that children need to be exposed to nature, get their hands dirty and feel excited and enthralled by the wildlife on our doorstep. He reasons if we, adults, do not help them, children, to become involved in nature they will grow up less inclined to care about it and thus less inclined to protect it. I think this is why Hugh is right about the importance of the hedgehog and why I have such a soft spot for this little creature myself. It was my first wild encounter and it saddens me that the kids who live next door to me never get that excitement of running out the door cause there’s a hedgehog in the garden! They don’t know what they’re missing.

In the final chapter of the book Hugh introduces the hedgehog dilemma which is an analogy about 2 hedgehogs who love each other but cannot be close to each other without hurting one another. The flip side is that when they move away from each other they feel lonely so want to move closer again and so the dilemma ensues. Hugh cleverly applies this dilemma to our own relationship with the natural world. Humans need nature, we’re drawn to it, it’s good for our physical and mental health but unfortunately we cannot be content to just appreciate it. We take what we like, what we can use and dump what we don’t want back as pollutants and rubbish. We get too close and cause harm just like the hedgehogs. Alternatively, if we move away we lose that connection, we forget how important and beautiful nature is and consequently end up caring less as it gradually disappears from around us. I was left pondering over this dilemma for a long time after finishing this book and I suppose any book that leaves you with questions and ideas that you ponder over for weeks afterwards is probably a pretty good one.

By Oliver O’Doherty, NHSN Volunteer

References

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42959766

 

“Hedgehogs are like spiny canaries, warning us of the explosive mix in the atmosphere.”