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by Liam Kirkaldy
13 November 2015
Parliamentary sketch: MPs talk about hedgehogs

Parliamentary sketch: MPs talk about hedgehogs

Historic events took place in Westminster this week. Ground breaking events. Events that could change the UK forever.

But unfortunately, distracted by the noises and movements of the Scotland Bill, the nation’s media did not notice. 

That’s right – the House of Commons talked hedgehog conservation – for the first time since 1566.

The facts are worrying. Hedgehogs are in decline. In fact numbers have fallen by a third in the last decade.

Put simply, the UK is full of hedges that could soon be hogless. A hedge is nothing without a hog.


Trip to the Labour conference

Trip to the Green party conference

Though apparently the biggest reason for the decline is habitat destruction. What came first – the hedge or the hog? Probably no one knows. Though they may do. Anyway, hedgehog numbers are an indicator of the state of the natural environment – so a decline is bad either way.

Tory MP Oliver Colvile started things off by explaining how the British people “have taken hedgehogs to their hearts” – even though that would probably be really painful.

There are now 36,500 hedgehog champions in the UK, and Colvile is one of them.

“Hedgehogs are prickly in character, have a voracious appetite and a passion for gardens, and have a noisy sex life. I leave it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to decide which of those traits I share.

He said: “In a BBC wildlife poll, hedgehogs were chosen as the best natural emblem for the British nation, beating the charismatic badger and the sturdy oak. The victory for the ultimate underdog came about with 42% and more than 9,000 votes cast for the hedgehog.”

Things went on in this spirit. But while, to the uninitiated, it might seem like the MPs were just talking about hedgehogs, there was much more going on here than met the eye.

Clearly, what they were really doing was discussing Scottish independence, as they always are.

Fortunately wily SNP MP Martin Docherty was one of the few to pick up on this, asking: “Does the Honourable Gentleman agree that hedgehogs are a devolved issue to be decided on by the Scottish Government?”

They are Scotland’s hedgehogs and the Tories should back off. If we were Norway we would probably have a Hedgehog Fund by now. We’d all be millionaires. But no – another outrage from Thatcher.

Colvile responded, somewhat enigmatically: “I am told that in the Western Isles, there are no hedgehogs at all.”

Where did they go? Was this a threat? What did it mean? Docherty is MP for West Dunbartonshire.

Colvile continued: “My relationship with the hedgehog goes back to my own childhood in suburban Woking, when I was read by my actress mother Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle”.”

An MP was talking about his relationship with a hog? Ignore it. But just when things looked like they might get awkward, Tory MP Gavin Williamson stepped in.

“Does my Honourable Friend”, he asked, “recognise the importance of using our gardens as a vital habitat for hedgehogs? I recently built a hedgehog house in my garden. Sadly, as yet I have no residents in it, but I hope it will encourage diversity and a growth in hedgehog numbers in South Staffordshire.”

No residents? Sounds like a rubbish house Gavin. In fact it wasn’t that long ago MPs were in trouble for having a special house for ducks on expenses. Now they were boasting about hedgehog houses.

Rebecca Pow then intervened: “Another fascinating fact about hedgehogs, which my Honourable Friend might be aware of, is that they run up to 1.2 km a night, but they have to find a mate. Thinking about wildlife gardening, I wonder if he might make a hole in his garden fence so that the hedgehogs can run through to find a mate? This is essential.”

A hole in the fence so they can mate? That’s gross. You can be thrown out of nightclubs for that.

Colvile then replied, somewhat flirtatiously, to suggest Pow had been reading through his speech.

“Hedgehogs need to move a surprising distance to search for food, mates and nesting sites, so we need to make it easier for them to move between gardens, perhaps by making holes in fences”.

Moving on, Colvile pointed out it is important not to put hedgehogs in bonfires and then burn them, because that doesn’t help with their conservation at all.

He said: “Last week, we celebrated bonfire night and I raised my concerns about hedgehogs making nests in the bonfires before they were set alight. One of my Honourable Friends suggested that this might be a Catholic plot to ensure that attention was taken away from Guy Fawkes – but I rather dismissed that.”

Nice one Oliver, bring Catholics into it.

He said: “Although it is not thought that badgers are the principal culprit in the demise of hedgehogs, they cannot be totally blame free.”

Well indeed. The badgers have been getting away with this for too long.

The badgers must take their share of the blame. We should add that to the Scotland Bill.

Unfortunately, by this point the debate appeared to be veering towards the need to kill all the badgers, which, frankly, is the Tory solution for everything. But that wasn’t the case – Colvile had a message of hope.

“While badgers are a natural predator of hedgehogs, where there are good foraging opportunities for worms and beetles, badgers and hedgehogs can coexist”. A lesson for us all.

Next, the SNP’s Dr Lisa Cameron popped up to say it is National Hedgehog Day soon.

But before things could wrap up, parliamentary under-secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Rory Stewart had to have his say. He just chose to do it in Latin, announcing: “Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum, Madam Deputy Speaker.”

It is hard to explain what happened next. For reasons still unclear, another MP, Tom Tugendhat, then stood up and said: “In every happy home is a hedgehog, as the Pashtuns would say.”

Looking a bit confused, Stewart translated his Latin, which means: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

That could well be true. But what do MPs know?

Stewart said hedgehogs are “a magical creature”. But still, he rejected the idea that hedgehogs should be the UK’s national animal.

He said: “I ask you: do we want to have as our national symbol an animal which when confronted with danger rolls over into a little ball and puts its spikes up?

“Do we want to have as our national symbol an animal that sleeps for six months of the year? Or would we rather return to the animal that is already our national symbol? I refer, of course, to the lion, which is majestic, courageous and proud.”

Referencing the last time the hedgehog entered Parliament, he said: “The year 1566 seems very recent, but the hedgehog was around before then. It was around before this parliament. The hedgehog, and its ancestor, narrowly missed being crushed under the foot of Tyrannosaurus rex. The hedgehog was around long before the human species: it existed 56 million years ago.”

Hopefully it will outlive us all.

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