Friday, November 4, 2011

Mr Fawkes: Inadvertently raising hedgehog awareness since 1605

It’s bonfire night: the night upon which we gather around in our warm coats, scoff jacket potatoes, parkin & toffee apples, and admire beautiful fireworks and sparklers-  all by the flickering orange glow of a  roaring pyre  topped by Mr Fawkes himself.

Of course this being Britain we end up standing in the drizzle, behind safety barriers half a mile from the bonfire- which is made out everyone’s unwanted furniture and garden debris. The fire either half-heartedly expires or roars out of control causing concern to nearby houses- all while someone sporadically lets off an underwhelming and overpriced selection of  fireworks. But like so many of our ‘celebrations’ we go through the motions ‘for the children’.

Now despite this I actually rather like bonfire night- save for the two weeks of fireworks and the launching of Chinese lanterns (I will come to these in a later, more grumpy post). I find it a uniquely British tradition that ties together something of our history and culture without getting too gimmicky.

But the thing I like perhaps most about bonfire night- is how it inadvertently manages raise the profile of one small and reclusive insectivore in the wider public consciousness- I am talking of course about Hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are a species we see little of at the best of times- but given the recent population decline their absence from our gardens and hedgerows has become ever more pronounced.  For the vast majority of us the only time we see one is as road kill which is very sad and regrettably true of many of our native mammals.

And yet for the days prior to bonfire night concerned adults and a chorus of children remind the rest of us to ‘check the fire for hedgehogs’. What a unique and quirky little message that carries practical and important advice but also makes the wider population more aware of both the presence of these secretive creatures and a tiny part of their behaviour.

Did you know that there is such a thing as Hedgehog Awareness Week- a week in early May promoting awareness of all things ‘hedgehog’ and organised by the good people at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society- presumably to coincide with lots of hedgehog activity following their emergence from hibernation.

I am not a marketing man (save for the cattle market) but why not shift this week to the one time of the year when suddenly we are all aware of hedgehogs? Yes I know it’s slightly odd to be raising awareness of hedgehogs and their plight as the whole nation simultaneously burns lots of hedgehog habitat but when you think about it all those children eating toffee apples while we burn a 461 year old terrorist is a bit weird too.

As for the farm- like most people I don’t bother with our own fire anymore. I have a lot of unburned brash from the hedges we had layed last winter which is still heaped around the fields. I tried burning it earlier in the year- but I’m about as good as Mr Fawkes when it comes to ignition. Instead  I’ll be gathering it all up on the next available dry day, loading it onto a trailer and taking it to the woods. There I’ll make an enormous bonfire, and when it’s done and heaped high and wide I’ll just leave it... for the hedgehogs.

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