On the eastern coast of Britain is a place called Ipswich, which is well-known for being the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited town. Now it has another claim to fame: home of the United Kingdom’s first hedgehog officer.
Britain has a declining population of hedgehogs, wee critters whose button noses, ombre quills, industriousness and taste for snails have made them a favorite of Britons, particularly gardeners. And Ipswich, it seems, is a “hedgehog hotspot.”
That’s according to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which last month posted a job ad for a full-time officer whose duties would center on the likes of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and nothing else. The Ipswich hedgehog officer, the organization said, would need to be an “inspirational individual who will be the face of hedgehog conservation” in the town.
This was not a position for the unqualified. The successful candidate was to have experience not just in wildlife conservation but also a demonstrated understanding of hedgehog ecology — a requirement that, it is probably safe to assume, must have eliminated most hopefuls.
The delightfully unusual posting won international headlines, as well as about 150 applications from people in countries including the United States, China, Germany, Spain and France, according to the BBC. Just four were interviewed, all of whom were from the United Kingdom, according to the BBC.
And now there is a winner: Alexandra North, 25, a researcher at a Cambridge organization called BirdLife International, will shift to hedgehogs next month and earn about $31,000 a year, the BBC reported.
She’ll have her work cut out for her. Ipswich, the job ad noted, may be a hedgehog haven, but it’s also the site of roads, fences, houses and “over-tidy gardens.” North’s duties, the posting said, will include monitoring the prickly fellows, raising awareness about them and motivating people to remove some man-made barriers in support of a street-by-street network of hedgehog habitat.
The ultimate objective? No less than “making Ipswich the most hedgehog friendly town in the U.K.”
North, who has degrees in zoology, biodiversity and conservation, told the BBC that she’s eager to take on the challenge.
“Everyone loves hedgehogs, and they are so important to the biodiversity of our landscape and our wildlife,” she said. “I really hope I can engage with people and encourage everyone to see how making small changes really can make a difference to these little creatures.”