By PROF ANGELA SMITH
Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at UoS
HAVING been brought up on the outskirts of a small town, hedgehogs were very much part of the natural world around us. From the evidence of them in my parents’ garden to the sad but familiar sight of squashed hedgehogs on the roads, they were very much taken for granted. It came as a great shock to realise, a few years ago, that they are now officially endangered.
I live very close to Backhouse Park in Sunderland, a park that has recently been re-wilded. There are hedgehogs here, and I have seen several in daylight very recently. But these are comparatively rare, and are now worthy of note rather than being taken for granted. So what has happened to lead us to this sorry state of affairs?
There are lots of things that have contrived to lead to the demise of this much-loved creature. Nearly all of them are the fault of humans. Just as it is our fault that they have so rapidly declined, we can also devise ways to help maintain the current hedgehog population, and help increase it.
Hedgehogs are blessed with a major saving grace: they are prickly but cute. This prickly cuteness has been used in popular culture for many years, perhaps most famously as Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (1905), the obliging washer-woman hedgehog, but also more recently as the video game character, Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), who in turn has become a multi-media star. As such, the hedgehog has a clear place in the popular imagination of young people.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Lew Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass, we are developing a series of events to take place in and around Sunderland throughout 2021. These events will be spearheaded by the character of Alice, re-imagined as an environmental activist.
Alice is a very resourceful young lady, and her place as an activist in the twenty-first century is entirely appropriate. Hedgehogs do appear in Adventures in Wonderland, where they are misused as croquet balls by the White Queen. Our Alice: Activist character has an assistant in the form of a hedgehog who has come back to take a rightful place as a pro-active character. Like Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Alice’s Hedgehog will be industrious and helpful but, like Sonic, they will also be dynamic and quick-witted.
We are going to give these characters to primary school children to imagine how they can work together to help save the planet. What super-powers can they have? What inventive gadgets can they contrive to help our characters in their fight against environmental destruction? What adventures will this lead to?
By giving these characters to children to develop environmentally-inspired adventures, we will be getting the activists of tomorrow to think about what they can do to help the plight of the hedgehog and other small animals that were once common.
Even small acts such as picking up discarded elastic bands and disposing of them safely can help boost the population of small creatures, including hedgehogs. In raising awareness of these issues with young children, we hope to inspire a life-long interest in and care for the environment.