A government minister has rejected a call for the hedgehog to become Britain's national symbol.
Tory MP Oliver Colvile argued in the House of Commons on Tuesday night that the hedgehog should be "our designated national species".
But environment minister Rory Stewart said on Wednesday he did not think the prickly creature was suitable. "Do we want to have as our national symbol an animal which when confronted with danger rolls over into a little ball and puts its spikes up?" he said.
"Do we want to have as our national symbol an animal that sleeps for six months of the year? Or would we rather return to the animal that is already our national symbol? I refer, of course, to the lion, which is majestic, courageous, and proud."
Undeterred, Colvile vowed to launch a House of Commons petition on the matter next week.
The MP for Plymouth, Sutton, and Devonport said hedgehogs had been chosen as the "best natural emblem for the British nation" in a BBC wildlife poll. "The British people have taken hedgehogs to their hearts," he said.
He warned that hedgehog numbers had declined by around a third in the last decade, mainly because of the loss of habitats. He said he would set up an all-party parliamentary group on hedgehogs – and called for an inquiry by the Commons environment committee into how they could be saved.
Pointing out that 21 November is Hedgehog Day, Colvile added: "Now is the time to increase the public's awareness of the plight of these plucky characters."
Stewart began his speech with a phrase in Latin: "Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum." It roughly translates as: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog one big thing."
Congratulating Colvile on securing the first Commons debate on the hedgehog since 1566, he said: "The hedgehog was around long before the human species: It existed 56 million years ago.
"It tells us a great deal about British civilisation that my honourable friend has raised the subject, because the hedgehog is a magical creature. It is a creature that appears on cylinder seals in Sumeria, bent backwards on the prows of Egyptian ships.
"The hedgehog has of course a famous medicinal quality taken by the Romany people for baldness and it represents a symbol of the resurrection found throughout Christian Europe."
Stewart quoted from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen … Come not near our faerie queen."
And he cited the poem "Afterwards" by Thomas Hardy: "When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn / One may say, 'He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm / But he could do little for them; and now he is gone'."
Deputy speaker Eleanor Laing commended him for making "one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this house".
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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