On Tuesday 10th of November, Rory, as Environment Minister ‎responded to a parliamentary debate on hedgehogs, believed to be the first substantial parliamentary consideration of this prickly subject since 1566. The debate was introduced by Oliver Colvile MP, a self-proclaimed “hedgehog champion” keen to draw attention to the decline in hedgehog numbers, and predation by badgers.

Rory discussed our changing scientific understanding of the Hedgehog from Aristotle through the sixth century cleric, Isidore of Seville – who believed hedgehogs carried apples and grapes on their spikes, through medieval clerics who believed their five teeth symbolised sin‎, to farmers who feared hedgehogs drank milk from the teats of recumbent cows. He counselled against believing that we yet fully understand their eccentric behaviour – from “self-anointing” with saliva to hibernating in summer in hot countries. He said that their conflicts with badgers and arctic tern, showed the difficulty of striking a balance between the needs of different species – many of which have vocal public champions. He finished by paying tribute to “eccentric citizen scientists” from Oliver Colvile to the great hedgehog enthusiast Hugh Warwick for their contribution both to our public love of nature and our scientific knowledge.

Rory, however, rejected Mr Colvile’s assertion that the hedgehog should become our national symbol. Rory argued that the majestic, courageous and proud lion is a better reflection of Britain and its place in the world than an animal which when confronted with danger, rolls over into a little ball and puts its spikes up, and sleeps six months of the year.

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