Newsmaker: Hogging the limelight - Fay Vass, chief executive,British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Indira Das-Gupta

Victor in the campaign to make McFlurry lids more hedgehog-friendly.

It can't be easy being McDonald's in the current climate. The company behind the ubiquitous golden arches has been blamed for everything from the rise in childhood obesity to the destruction of the rainforests.

Thankfully, it can now remove 'hedgehog killer' from its list of alleged misdemeanours, after caving into pressure from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to redesign the lids of its McFlurry ice cream cartons. The story of how a tiny charity for hedgehogs took on the mighty McDonald's and won has captured the public's imagination. The charity has not only had widespread national coverage, but has also attracted interest from international organisations.

Fay Vass, chief executive of the BHPS, says modestly: "I've done interviews for radio stations in New Zealand and New York, and for the Sydney News."

That's not bad for a charity with only two full-time and two part-time members of staff and an annual turnover of £126,000.

It was alerted to the threat posed by McFlurry lids in 2000, then started to receive at least a couple of calls a week about the issue. It encouraged its 11,000 members to write to the press and to their local branches of McDonald's and its head office.

Despite the contrast in the resources available to the BHPS and McDonald's, whose annual turnover last year was £10.5bn, Vass was always confident she would succeed. "I thought they would at least pretend to be sympathetic, even if they weren't," she said. "Then pictures of hedgehogs stuck in McFlurry cartons started appearing in the press, and I knew they wouldn't want the bad publicity. When I started contacting them, it felt like I was being fobbed off, but then they appointed someone to deal with our case, which was a turning point.

"It really helps if you have got a single point of contact. If you are bombarding one person with correspondence, they are more likely to try to do something about it."

When the BHPS isn't campaigning against international corporations, it finds homes for injured or baby hedgehogs found by members of the public.

It matches each animal with one of its network of 300 'carers' - volunteers who nurse the hedgehogs back to health so they can be released in the wild.

The charity was set up in 1982 by Major Adrian Coles, who found a hedgehog stuck in his cattle grid. The experience prompted the local Shropshire councillor to start a campaign to introduce ramps for all cattle grids to prevent similar incidents.

Vass says: "When I tell people what I do, they normally laugh at first, but then they will start to tell me their hedgehog anecdotes - everyone seems to have one."

Although the five-year campaign against McDonald's received regular press coverage, Vass would be the first to admit that she's no media expert.

"We were lucky because of the subject," she says. "People were always more likely to side with us than with McDonald's because it's a David and Goliath situation. People also seem to have an affinity with hedgehogs."

Indeed, some of the charity's members are so mad on hedgehogs that they have been known to take things to extremes.

"You do get some who are bordering on fanatical," says Vass. "I spoke to one woman who used to sleep with them, and there are some who have whole rooms full of hedgehog paraphernalia."

Vass admits that she didn't always realise her vocation lay in saving hedgehogs: "I had heard of the charity because I lived nearby, but didn't give hedgehogs much thought before I joined. Now I can't imagine doing anything else."

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