It’s no secret that my two main interests in life are photography (who knew?) and wildlife, in particular the humble hedgehog. I hadn’t seen a hedgehog for over 25 years and, like many, had thought them to be either extinct or so rare that there would be more chance of seeing a lottery win. That all changed in 2018, when we had our back garden landscaped. I’d like to say that it was our focus on making the design wildlife-friendly that made that first hog sighting possible, but it was in fact the new garage and driveway that enabled it to happen. One evening, my wife saw the garage security light come on and went to the window to see what might have triggered it. She was expecting one of the neighbourhood cats but there, trotting down the driveway, was a hedgehog. By the time she’d called me downstairs to see, it had ducked under the fence into next door’s garden and back in the darkness from whence it came. A minor ‘disagreement’ broke out, with me pointing out to my wife how long it had been since I’d seen one, but her being adamant that’s what she’d seen. As any combined engineer and photography obsessive would do, I bought a camera the next in order to settle the argument. The first night after the wildlife ‘trail cam’ was deployed on the garage drainpipe, there they were, not just the one and not just a single trip through our garden either. It appeared as though we were a thoroughfare for these mysterious little creatures and possibly had been for many years; the drive making it easier to get about. From that night, I started feeding them in an effort to keep them still long enough to really look at them. To cut a very long, 4 year story short, I now have around half a dozen different hedgehogs that visit my feeding station every year. I have worked with my local rescue to help hogs that have been injured, are visibly sick or too small to hibernate. Our garden has been a formal release space for those who’ve been previously cared for…etc…etc. It’s fair to say that it’s become an obsession. What I hadn’t fully appreciated in those early days, was their plight. That, and the subsequent knowledge I’ve accumulated on their physiology, lifecycle and behaviour since has helped me support them. It was particularly handy the other night when my wife was out on a run and discovered a tiny autumn juvenile wandering aimlessly around a busy local road. One swift rescue and weighing later (the latter is as tricky as it sounds) and I was concerned that this little female wouldn’t be big enough to survive the winter. I decided to house her overnight and seek advice from the rescue centre in the morning. I’d done this in the past, so had all the equipment needed to make a hedgehog comfortable. In the end, it was determined that she was actually on track to be the right size and weight by winter, so she spend the day sleeping in a quiet room, waking only to scoff the food I’d given her, and then was released in our garden that night.
Shortly before her release
The whole event was hugely rewarding for me. But why? Why this particular animal? Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with their ‘cuteness’. Hedgehogs are indeed cute, having consistently been recognised as Britain’s favourite animal, so don’t get me wrong, I adore them in the same way as everyone else. However, I support them the way I do, because of a sense of guilt. Guilt because the hedgehog is an endangered species, which is almost entirely because of human behaviour. Our continuing quest to build new houses, our use of pesticides that kill their food, our obsession with neat and tidy Chelsea Flower Show-like gardens with impenetrable fences enclosing them, have all contributed to the hog’s decline. Lack of food, lack of territory in which to find a mate, and having to share more confined areas with their main predator (the badger) is literally destroying the species. I’m not clambering onto a soapbox here; people are naturally free to do whatever they want. The point I am making is that saddens me that in a decade or so, we could be describing them to young children in the past tense, instead of showing them. The onky examples of the species will be the domesticated African Pygmy, which isn’t the slightest bit representative of its wild counterpart, despite what Instagram might have you believe. Truth is that unless we change some simple things, that’s where we are heading. Not a burning issue in the context of the climate crisis or the war in Ukraine of course, but it is evidence of a human behaviour that will ultimately drive other native species into extinction as well. Think of the hedgehog as a warning sign. A sign that I am personally paying attention to with the feeding, providing of habitat etc in my own area. As I said, the purpose of this post is not to preach, but instead would like to connect it with a new project that I’m working on. A while back, I was learning about landscape photography (I blogged about it at the time) and the different purposes that the genre serves. Wanting to explore this further, I began a project looking at the ongoing battle between us and the natural landscape, whether through demarcation, urbanisation or possession. What I had noticed was the way that nature eventually wins, once the human activity has stopped; think of the ruined historical monuments being reclaimed by vegetation, or the battlefields of the Somme. Nature is patient and long after we are extinct, it will be reclaiming its natural spaces from everything we create. My series isn’t intended to be depressing, though; it will take a closer look at what we might not notice, inspired in a similar way to the artists who formed the New Topographics movement in the 1970s. They were railing against the aesthetic and the picturesque impressions of the world that were found in art history, their work revealing our relationship with the natural world. My series will major on our attempts to control or restrain nature, with the varying degrees of success that go with them. I started work while on a recent holiday and decided to shoot the series on medium format film, which offers a different perspective (particularly in the 6x6 frame), on composition and includes what they call the ‘medium format look’.
From my landscape series, as yet untitled
My aim for the project is to really look at our environment in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously. Perhaps, as it did with that very first hedgehog sighting, photography will encourage me to notice things that are less obvious than what I had assumed within my understanding. In documenting it, perhaps I can prove to myself that these things are real, much like that mysterious little creature that first captured my attention.
For more information about hedgehog preservation: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
For the New Topographics movement, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/new-topographics