It is Guy Fawkes' night, and with it come the annual reminders to check your bonfire for hedgehogs before setting light to it. The chances of inadvertently baking a hedge-pig, Romany-style, get less with every year: yet this is no cause for celebration, but an indication of how few of these lovely little animals we have left.
They've survived here for over 70 million years, yet we've gone from about 30 million in the 1950s to perhaps a million today. That means we have lost over 95% of the country's hedgehogs within living memory. At the current rate of loss, the hedgehog will be extinct in this country by 2025.
The reasons are complex. Tidier, landscaped gardens, better maintained fences, our increased use of pesticides (including slug pellets), increased road traffic and (perhaps) an increase in fox and badger numbers may all play a part. We've even slaughtered them in their thousands in one of the last places they were doing well, the Hebrides, because we favoured the birds whose eggs they were eating.
But by far the greatest problem for hedgehogs is our implacable greed, our determination to turn everything to our own use. Our gardens, our parks, our roads, our fields, our copses: all managed for us, according to our whims and priorities, and damn everything else that relies on them to live.
For me, hedgehogs are a real marker species, a measure of how good (or bad) things really are. They're unique in this isles, utterly charming, useful (for pest control), and most of all, harmless. We think they're all around us, but they are fading away. Our children are likely to grow up without ever having glimpsed one in the wild, let alone rescued one from a bonfire. Personally, I don't want to live in a country that can't make room for hedgehogs. Do you?
To find out what you can do to help your local hedgehogs, click here.