The hedgehog crusade: Widdecombe shows her soft side

By Cassie Chambers

Ann Widdecombe's support for the death penalty is well-known, but the former MP is more sensitive when it comes to animals.

The famous Catholic launched a campaign today to criminalise the "wilful killing" of hedgehogs, a species Widdecombe says "has a special place in all of our hearts".

The "Save Harry" campaign, launched by the Wildlife Aid Foundation with Widdecomb at the wheel, seeks to stop the decline of hedgehog populations in the UK.

The MP turned novelist was reminiscent of a new-age Beatrix Potter as she expressed her outrage over the hedgehog's plight.

"Sixty years ago there were about 36 million hedgehogs. Incredibly this number had plummeted to some two million by the 1990s and could now be down to under a million," said Widdecombe.

"We need to take action now before extinction becomes a very real prospect," she continued.

Reasons cited for the hedgehog's decline include an increased use of pesticides by gardeners and farming practices that eliminate the creatures' homes.

While there are no reports of widespread "wilful killing" of the animal, Wildlife Aid Foundation founder Simon Cowell argued a law against hedgehog-slaughter would force government to give increased consideration to hedgehogs when passing policy.

"I was privileged to grow up at a time when hedgehogs were commonplace. Sadly these wonderful little creatures are no longer a common sight in Britain's countryside," said Cowell.

"Unless we act now they could soon disappear altogether. I want future generations in Britain to be able to see our native hedgehogs."

Those wishing to help the animals are advised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to provide water, nesting materials, and appropriate food.

The society warns that would-be hedgehog supporters may need to shell out significant money for upkeep of these high-maintenance animals however, as "cheap foods are not always acceptable" to the "very fussy" creatures.