Duncan Baker Excerpts
Monday 5th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) for introducing the petition. It is an honour to be in the room with a true hedgehog champion—my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has done so much to further the cause through parliamentary debate.

As we have heard many times, the hedgehog has been voted the most popular British wild mammal. But the numbers we have also heard are truly shocking. None of us could fail to be extremely worried that we are down to potentially our last million hedgehogs. To read that they are vulnerable to extinction would have been unheard of when I was growing up. A decrease of over 50% in the last 20 years is something that we should all sit up and notice. But why? Essentially, lockdown has focused our minds. It has made us re-evaluate much of our lives, and I am glad, because the environment has taken centre stage more than ever before. That has heightened our understanding of the delicately constructed ecosystems on which all our society is built.

This debate is calling for hedgehog protections to be increased by moving their status in schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to schedule 5. However, as we have heard, the seventh quinquennial review of schedules 5 and 8 to the Act potentially provides DEFRA with recommendations to make major changes to those schedules. The 2021 review seeks to change the eligibility criteria for hedgehogs, currently listed in schedule 6. It proposes that the country-based statutory nature conservation bodies should retain protected status only of species that are in imminent danger of extinction in Great Britain. That shift in focus preferably considers Great Britain red-listed species, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The effect of the proposed change could mean that, rather than increasing protections for hedgehogs, their current minor level of protection might be further removed.

That is the nub of why so many of us are concerned. We simply cannot allow that to happen. Already we have heard that the species is in significant decline. It is affected by many things—the loss of hedgerows as habitat and traffic accidents. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) pointed out, the numbers would of course be down on the road, because the numbers are significantly down in the country. The decline in food, through the increased use of pesticides, is also a material reason why the numbers have decreased. We must do everything we possibly can to increase their chances of survival, not diminish them.

I want to quickly mention Hedgehog Haven in North Walsham, a wonderful local organisation run by my constituent Marian Grimes. She has told me many times that Government action to uphold our collective custodial responsibility is owed to those animals. We can do that. As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I know from the report that we released in the past week that we have to do more for our domestic ecosystems. Our Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), even highlighted that hedgehogs’ health and their quantity are one of the best indicators of a healthy micro-environment.

While the Government continue to do the work that they can, which we welcome, I hope this debate will be the start of a step change in the long-term prospects for the hedgehog population. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s review must strengthen the protective legislation for hedgehogs. I go back to the Environmental Audit Committee’s findings on biodiversity from the past week or so: we have to do more, whether through planning or agriculture legislation. We have to keep doing everything we can to protect nature. A very good starting point would be enhancing protection for our population of hedgehogs.