Environmental writer Warwick draws a humorous bead on the small, brown spiny creature's place in the great scheme of life.
Hedgehogs are not rodents, the debut author informs us in this bright, learned skirmish with the beast. They are insectivores, more akin to shrews than porcupines. Then again: “When is a hedgehog not a hedgehog? When it is a gymnure or moonrat,” hedgehogs by any other name, but hairy rather than spiny and possessed of “pronounced anal glands,” redolent of sweat and rotten onions. (This passage suggests the book's depth of coverage.) With considerable verve, Warwick covers the hedgehog from basic fact to bizarre fancy. He applies a light, poetically descriptive touch to its behavioral and geographical aspects. He spends days looking for the creature in hedges (where else?), amidst dog violets, blackthorn and stitchwort along the fast-disappearing green lanes and bounded fields. Sometimes he surprises one and watches it tighten into a protective ball of spine and menace. After a brief gustatory interlude in which various road-killed hedgehog preparations are suggested, Warwick details his personal infatuation with the animal. He satisfies much of it in the company of people who have assumed the responsibility of caring for injured hedgehogs and reintroducing them to the wild. He also spends some time on a quest for an encounter with Hugh’s hedgehog (no relation), a rare species found in China. This segment, too, has its stratum of near-relentless comedy, but it also serves to highlight the hedgehog's plight and allows Warwick to turn serious. Hedgehogs' habitat is an anachronism, the product of a slower, more land-intimate time, and their numbers are declining, he writes, as he outlines a sensible, hands-on course of protection.
A rewarding introduction to the ancient company of hedgehogs.