Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Dustin ensures a seasonal hedgehog tale is no turkey

Dustin the Turkey
Dustin the Turkey
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

A friend recently reminded me of the fun that reading bedtime stories to our children can be. He said that while his two small children were now playing with computer games, he also reads them bedtime stories which they love.

His hope is that they will grow up with an appreciation of books as well as computerised fantasy games, something I am sure is shared by most caring parents.

Initially he felt playing with these games might be harmful but then realised his children will need those same skills to use mobile phones and computers, both at school and in everyday life.

These days we all need to be computer literate, something he and I had to struggle to come to terms with as technology evolved.

Watching television and manipulating images on a screen are not necessarily a bad thing but kids must read books also, otherwise there is nothing to properly challenge their minds and no incentive to increase their word power.

Computers can do so much but are only as good as the people sitting in front of them -- and nothing compares with letting our imaginations run free when prompted by a good story.

I came across a lovely first book for bedtime recently which reminded me immediately of my own childhood, a time when I was fascinated by tales of faeries, pixies and goblins and the adventures of Ratty and Mole in the wild wood. It is titled Harry the Hedgehog and was written by Dale Treadwell, an Australian environmentalist who was originally involved in bush land restoration and who has been living in Ireland for over a decade.


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Dale is well known for his appearances on children's TV programmes and his extensive work visiting schools and giving young people an understanding of the importance of the natural world.

Having seen him in action many times I was always in awe at his ability to connect with children and his skills in teaching them in an entertaining manner.

This is a gift that few have and in his first book he tells a simple tale in language that any young child will enjoy and understand.

It also contains easy to follow instructions on how to make gardens a friendly place for hedgehogs and how to make a suitable home where they can hibernate.

The introduction to the book was written by Dustin the Turkey. Could one ask for a finer endorsement?

Poor teenage literacy is a big problem these days in most schools but if young people had been encouraged in early childhood to read then they would have few difficulties with communicating in later life.

Copies of Harry the Hedgehog are best ordered direct from Dale at or can be purchased from Eason's or other good booksellers.

ISBN: 978-1-78280-173-3.


For anyone connected with farming or who is interested in the history of booms and busts in agriculture, Bad Land by Jonathan Raban is compelling reading.

It is undoubtedly a classic of its kind and tells the story of Raban's journey through the wide open spaces of Montana which were once populated by immigrants from all over Europe and who arrived brimming with optimism at the prospects of farming in a new era.

In the late 1800s the railway companies opened up access to these vast unpopulated prairies and the US government also wished to see homesteaders settle and create prosperous communities.

Thousands followed the dream of becoming independent small-holders and glossy brochures were printed showing them how all they had to do was lay claim to a section of land for a modest sum and then build a home where they would live happily ever after.

What happened next was a tragedy that has parallels with farming history throughout the world.

Prices fell and the thin soils and low rainfall of Montana were never able to sustain tilling anyway.

The result was the infamous dust bowl which led the hordes of formerly optimistic farm families to abandon their homes and seek whatever work they could find elsewhere with a burden of heavy accumulated debts and shattered dreams.

What fascinated me most about this extraordinary story was the manner in which agricultural history continues to repeat itself and where gullible optimists repeatedly risk all only to be let down by big business, government agencies and the vagaries of the weather.

First published in 1996, Bad Land can be purchased from most good bookshops.

ISBN: 0-330-34622-9.

Irish Independent