Just before the Brexit referendum I tried to adopt a hedgehog. My last sighting of a living hedgehog occurred a long time ago. It walked nonchalantly past my feet as I sat reading in the garden. Hedgehogs are cute but fast disappearing. I thought it would be good to have one around, and I owned an empty hedgehog house, a Christmas gift.
Ipswich Council prompted me to action by appointing a Hedgehog Rescue Officer. “No hedgehogs on the Rates”, you may protest. But even as government takes away their money, Councils have a duty to have regard to conserving biodiversity under the National Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) section 40 of 2006.
Googling Hedgehog Rescue affords fascinating reading. You are warned that not all hedgehogs want to be rescued. “Every rescue must be appropriate”. Some hedgehog rescues can be life-changing. Read for example the feel-good story, A Handful of Happiness: Ninna, the tiny hedgehog with a big heart. It sold 30,000 copies in its first month here in the UK, according to The Times, and has been translated into ten languages. ‘Inappropriate’ rescuing of hedgehogs will be increasing.
Concern about hedgehogs turns out to be widespread and popular. Rescuers abound. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society was founded in 1982. You can become one of its Hedgehog Heroes if you put a warning on your machinery about the danger of Strimmers. Their Hedgehog Heroes Roll of Honour is long and includes the Mole Valley District Council, possible clash of interests here surely, and Township Response Ltd. (Shropshire), possibly ex-SAS, plus several Golf Clubs.
In the midst of this happy googling, a google drop box popped up asking for my location. I hit the “block” button. Perhaps it was to get me on to the Township Response radar. Perhaps it was more sinister.
Undeterred, I applied to a rescue centre; a form arrived and I filled it in. Its preamble warned me that hedgehogs are free spirits. They roam widely and might never return. My hedgehog house might have only a temporary resident. Who could tell?
Humiliation was to follow my laborious and truthful application. I turned out not to be a suitable hedgehog adopter. I ticked the box for having hedges with holes in them and a large garden opening onto fields. I had never inappropriately rescued a hedgehog. But my house was within a mile of a major road and hedgehogs’ road safety record, though better than suicidal pheasants, is poor. And I had used a nasty toxic spray on ground elder in the garden once or twice. Despite a firm purpose of amendment, my environmental profile was for ever tarnished.
In these days of Cambridge Analytica, Google and Facebook hoovering up our data, I began wondering, if we had a second Referendum, what the Masters of the Internet might make of all this pro-hedgehog activity. Was I now in a special Hedgehog Lover (HL) category linked to being a) old and b) living in the countryside, therefore being a voter floating between Leave and Remain? Would they construct special Brexit messages for HLs?
You can imagine the early 2019 headlines in the Tory tabloids. David Davis will be quoted saying: “We’re taking control of our hedgehog population which is what the British people voted for.” “Liam Fox: Customs Union would stop Commonwealth Initiative on hedgehogs”. “Boris stands by extra £350 million for hedgehog rescue” appears on campaign buses and billboards.
The fear factor will likely raise its ugly head again. Item on TV news: “PM says EU behind Invasion of Russian Northern White Breasted Hedgehog”. Followed by a package with a Jacob Rees-Mogg voice-over denouncing Russian Erinaceus roumanus, at the front of the queue for emergency treatment in veterinary surgeries – (Latin makes them sound more threatening). Camera pans to sad, elderly British hedgehogs waiting hours for treatment, curled up in miserable balls.
We won’t have seen the last of foreign-planted fake news: RT radio will lead with “British PM ditching EU Hedgehog Directive”. Soon trending on social media will be “Porton Down poisoned Shropshire hedgehogs”, launched from the covens of Russian hackers, Trolls and Bots. Sergei Lavrov is filmed giving an orphaned hedgehog milk.
We may never know. Only the Lib-Dems believe British people should be asked again, once they know what Brexit means and its likely consequences. Meanwhile I’ll go on wearing my HL and proud of it badge and hope it shows what a really nice person I am.
Sorry to be prickly about our Masters of the Internet but that’s where they’re taking democracy and freedom of speech. Hedgehog Awareness week runs from 6-12 May. Yes, really. Hot on the tail of Amber Rudd’s Removals Targets Awareness week. And yes, there is no EU Hedgehog Directive. Though there is a commitment to biodiversity: two directives, one for birds and one for preserving habitats.