Andrew Mitchell Excerpts
Monday 5th July 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Twigg. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), with whom I have co-operated over many years on issues of animal husbandry, and all hon. Members who have spoken so passionately about hedgehogs.

Across the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, many Suttonians wish to see greater protection for our local hedgehog population. That is reflected in the huge number of people who have asked me to attend the debate and speak in it today—185 people from Sutton Coldfield signed the petition that we are debating.

I pay tribute to Snuffles Hedgehog Rescue, based in Four Oaks in my constituency. Claire and her partner Matt have been rescuing and looking after local hedgehogs for eight years, once they built up their knowledge and expertise after rescuing a hedgehog they found that needed help. Since 2013, they have built up a local network of volunteers, including people who help to clean the facilities, provide foster care for hedgehogs as they recover, and rehome hedgehogs in a safe environment.

In December last year, I supported a new clause in the Environment Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) referred to, that would have added the hedgehog to the list of protected animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It would create a legal imperative to search for hedgehogs in building developments and to mitigate the impact on their habitats, as we do for bats, for example. I am glad to have the opportunity today to speak briefly in favour of this greater protection for our hedgehogs. We know that there is significant public support for additional safeguards. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, surveys show time and again just how loved hedgehogs are by British people. They have been voted Britain’s most popular wild mammal in several surveys, including the BBC’s 2013 wildlife survey.

Over the past two decades, hedgehog numbers across the UK have plummeted by 50% in rural areas and 30% in urban areas. I support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s campaign for hedgehogs to be moved from schedule 6 to schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to allow them greater protection, notwithstanding the legitimate reservations that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell has mentioned.

I have been concerned, as others have, to read that the seventh quinquennial review of schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 could introduce changes that would affect the status of many of our native species, including hedgehogs. I understand that the review seeks to change the eligibility criteria of the hedgehog, currently listed in schedule 6. It is proposed that the country-based statutory nature conservation bodies will retain protected status only for species that are in imminent danger of extinction in the United Kingdom. I echo the words of the hon. Member for Strangford; the effect of the proposed changes could mean that, rather than increasing protection for hedgehogs, as my constituents have asked, the level of protection that they currently enjoy could be removed altogether.

Hedgehogs are currently protected under schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as well as the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. This makes it illegal to kill or capture them using certain methods and prohibits cruelty and mistreatment. However, this legislation does not address many of the reasons why hedgehogs have declined over the past 20 years. I believe we need to take further action to help conserve wild hedgehog populations. Listing hedgehogs under schedule 5 of the 1981 Act would allow them greater protection. This would ensure that their nesting sites, as well as the hedgehogs themselves, are protected from disturbance or harm, and would offer hedgehogs the same protection as hazel dormice, red squirrels, water vole, otters and all our bat species.

This Government have a strong track record when it comes to environmental issues, including our commitment to net zero. Our world-leading Environment Bill will set a new and ambitious framework for environmental governance, to address environmental challenges including biodiversity loss and climate change. We have committed to leaving the environment in a better space than we inherited it. I therefore cannot understand why, in all these changes we are making, Ministers are not considering strengthening our protection for hedgehogs. I look forward to listening to this very accomplished Minister explain what plans the Government have in that respect.

--- Later in debate ---
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my right hon. Friend very much for that intervention; she is obviously passionate about this issue and indeed worked in the Department. I am sure she knows that we have just announced the details of our sustainable farming initiative and the ELM scheme is very much about habitats, bringing nature back and being able to produce food sustainably, and there will be an emphasis on wildlife corridors and particularly river corridors. All these things will benefit our native wildlife and particularly hedgehogs. So my right hon. Friend is right, and I shall be taking advantage of the opportunity; indeed, I have been speaking up for hedgehogs.

I must mention West Hatch Animal Centre, which is just over the hill from where I live. It does absolutely brilliant work when hedgehogs are orphaned. I have been up there, and the centre has all these baby hedgehogs that are underweight and cannot get through the winter. The centre takes them on and literally drip-feeds them with pipettes to keep them alive. I was then very honoured that my garden was vetted and was deemed acceptable—I garden for wildlife—to receive some of these, now fattened-up, hedgehogs. I had some released in my garden. I was in Parliament one day, and the centre said, “You have to have a hedgehog house.” I thought, “What is that?” So I googled, “What is a hedgehog house?” I then had to build one in order to receive a hedgehog, which we duly did.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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In the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, we make hedgehog boxes. If the Minister would like one for her garden, it would be my pleasure to ensure that one is delivered to her at Westminster.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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That is the kind of offer I would find hard to refuse. Interestingly, we went to all the effort of making the house, then releasing the hedgehog into it, but I do not think that the hedgehog ever lived in it again. I think my garden was much more suited to it than the house. That is not to say that the boxes from Sutton Coldfield will not be a great deal better than those from Taunton Deane.

On the serious points, as we look to conserve and protect our native hedgehogs we have to consider the reasons for their decline. The main threat to the hedgehog is habitat loss, as many hon. Members referenced, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and the hon. Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Habitat change has been due to such things as agricultural intensification and deterioration in the actual habitat, and that has affected so much of our other wildlife as well.

Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 focuses on deliberate harm against species. Although I agree with the sentiment behind the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to ensure that we protect our hedgehogs, it is not clear that the species is being threatened in that way. Therefore, that protection under the Act would not address the main challenges that the species faces, although I was interested to hear about the potential collecting and selling of hedgehogs. If there is evidence of that from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, I would certainly like to see it, because that has not been flagged to me and it would concern me.

I must go on to the points made by so many Members, particularly my right hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet and for Epsom and Ewell, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Blaydon, about schedule 6 of the 1981 Act, under which the hedgehog is listed. The schedule makes it an offence to kill or take listed animals by certain methods, such as types of traps and snares.

The quinquennial review process, which many have referred to, reviews schedules 5 and 8 of the Act, and the JNCC will make recommendations with regard to those lists. As I have highlighted to a number of Members, no changes to species protection have yet been recommended to us, nor have any decisions been made. Proposals for change will be formally consulted on later this year, and the Government will then consider the recommendations and advice provided by the JNCC before making any decisions.