London — Britain is nobly rising to the challenge of a prickly new problem - how to save that pint-sized version of the porcupine, the British hedgehog.
Leading the fight, and winning a wholehearted response, is a retired major, Adrian Coles of Knowbury, Shropshire.
Major Coles discovered that hundreds of hedgehogs were dying when they fell into drainage pits under cattle grids and could not climb out.
''I didn't choose hedgehogs,'' he explained to newsmen. ''I had hedgehogs thrust upon me. I found one that had fallen down a grid and before I knew it, I was getting it out with an egg saucepan.''
Major Coles, a county and district councilor and chairman of his local parish council, persuaded Shropshire County Council to build concrete escape ramps under its cattle grids, and soon after that the British Hedgehog Preservation Society emerged.
Hundreds of letters a week have been pouring in to Major Coles since late last year.
A local newspaper chose hedgehogs as the theme of its annual painting competition and a record number of entries flooded in.
Royal Holloway College at London University now wants to study the hedgehog through Major Cole's new society.
The major is ''amazed at the interest,'' and says that it all shows that ''the British really do love their animals more than any other nation.''
He has been interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation and has been on the front page of The Times of London.