27 July 2012

Hedgehogs, Toads and Adders...

Froglife’s Communications Coordinator Sam Taylor has been chatting to author Hugh Warwick about his new book, and the idea of love in relation to animals and the natural world.

"At Froglife’s Tuppence a Toad evening with ZSL in October 2011, I was introduced to a bristly man with twinkly eyes and a tattoo of a hedgehog on his leg. As he was talking about his latest book, it slowly dawned on me who he was, and I interrupted him to blurt out ‘You’re Hedgehog Hugh!’ I promptly dragged him to meet my parents, who embraced him instantly as a member of the family.

It’s not that we have a soft spot for all men with beards and tattoos - we had recently read Hedgehog Hugh Warwick’s ‘A Prickly Affair’, a great piece of nature writing that is humorous, warm, personal and philosophical as well as factual and scientific. The book details Hugh’s love affair with hedgehogs, through his research and campaigning, and explores the lives of these bristly, bright-eyed animals.
Hedgehog Hugh Warwick meets a Toad
Hugh was decorated with a hedgehog tattoo (his “first and last tattoo”) as part of the ExtInked project, recruiting ambassadors to stand up for species at risk of extinction. Hugh and I were chatting at the toad event about a new quest he had undertaken – following declarations of love from other animal specialists, experts and enthusiasts, he embarked on a journey to meet the animal worthy of being his “second and last” tattoo. Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time interviewing Hugh for the next edition of Natterchat, and hearing him talk about his new book at an event in Blackwells in Oxford.

'The Beauty in the Beast' details Hugh’s meetings with 15 wildlife obsessives, introducing him to the beauty, drama and daily lives of 15 British wildlife species. Having encountered bats, otters, water voles, badgers, dolphins and dragonflies, Hugh also meets Adders with expert Bernard Dawson and Common toads with educator Gordon MacLellan. The human characters are brought to life as vividly as the animals they introduce to Hugh. Sadly, the Badger Man Gareth Morgan passed away last week, and anyone who reads the book will mourn the loss of this passionate wildlife lover.

The book raises interesting questions about human relationships with other animals, and what makes someone switch on to the beauty of the natural world. Hugh’s search is for the wildlife equivalent of ‘the boy or girl next door’, someone you get to know and fall in love with rather than an out-of-reach, 'celebrity' animal like a lion or a polar bear.  Quoting Stephen Jay Gould, the book examines love or empathy for wildlife as a motivator for conservation action, exploring the idea that we will save the things we love and we love the things that we get close to.

I won’t give the end away - it’s a brilliant read, and really brings home the diversity of weird and wonderful creatures (and people!) we still have in the UK. It also resonates with Froglife’s work, helping new people come face-to-face with amphibians and reptiles with the aim of engaging them in saving these incredible animals and their habitats."

Photo: Hugh Warwick

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