Hedgehogs were fairly common in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. Or at least they were in our corner of Hertfordshire, which we called either Watford or Bushey depending on how urban or rural we were feeling at the time. Now and again we found them shuffling in the woods or they would just appear in our garden and adopt us in exchange for a bread and milk diet.
They were so prevalent they were, sadly, a common species of roadkill. Even as late as 1980 this was a joke rather than an ecological outrage:
Today though British hedgehog populations are in serious decline. I cannot remember the last time I saw a wild one, or spoke to anyone who had seen one. In the 1950s there may been as many as 30 million, whereas an admittedly more reliable 1995 estimate was 1.55 million, and in 2018 it was estimated that numbers had halved since 2000. However accurate these numbers are there is obviously a serious problem, particularly if you are a hedgehog.
Foxes are another matter though. Doubtless there were many around when I was young but I cannot remember ever seeing a live one. We did come across a dead one in the woods, making the occasion what Big Chief I-Spy would have called a ‘red-letter day’.
But today foxes seem to be everywhere, particularly in South West London where I live now. I know these would be urban foxes, but this is my point. My own meagre, anecdotal, life experience illustrates the premise behind The Hedgehog And The Fox, an essay Isaiah Berlin published back in the 1950s when hedgehogs were ten a penny: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. No wonder the wily fox can defend itself better than the hedgehog against the weapons of mass destruction we who were supposedly made in God’s image continue to unleash on the planet.
© Chris Lawrence 2020.