Britain’s House of Commons is well-known for its cantankerous debates — a refreshing spectacle in the eyes of those Americans who view the proceedings in Congress as a reliable remedy for insomnia. Parliament, on occasions, also exemplifies the fondness for eccentricity which helps the British reign in their proclivity for grandiosity.
But when Britain’s environment minister, Rory Stewart, rose to speak about hedgehogs on Tuesday — the first time the issue has been raised in that chamber since 1566 — he brought to his subject not only wit and passion, but also gave (with only fleeting glances to his notes) one of the most erudite speeches ever delivered by a politician.
Those unfamiliar with Stewart should understand that even though he represents a rural constituency, he was not elected on the strength of his expertise on hedgehogs.
Leaving aside the question of Britain’s need for a national species — or by what virtue it can continue being represented by a creature (the lion) that never freely roamed on this land — the fate of the hedgehog cannot be divorced from the future of the environment upon which it depends.
Those who live on islands are often subject to a false sense of security which derives from the natural defense provided by seas and oceans. The sense that outside threats can effectively be repelled, engenders complacency among those who feel safe at home. But those who neglect to care for the homes of hedgehogs are also failing to care for their own.