Former Shropshire councillor and hedgehogs’ champion dies aged 86

A tireless Shropshire public servant who catapulted the plight of hedgehogs on to the national stage has died aged 86.

Major Adrian Coles, who became a Chelsea pensioner, did much to champion the cause of hedgehog welfare
Major Adrian Coles, who became a Chelsea pensioner, did much to champion the cause of hedgehog welfare

Major Adrian Coles, who became nationally known as Major Hedgehog, was both a parish and county councillor in Shropshire for some 40 years, as well as holding a raft of other public roles.

Major Adrian Coles was a tireless public servant
Major Adrian Coles was a tireless public servant

The Army veteran and Clee Hill councillor founded the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in 1982, regularly appearing on national TV as an authority on all things hedgehog, including staples such as Blue Peter and the News at Ten.

He was awarded an MBE for his services to the community in 2000, was an Honorary Alderman of South Shropshire and a Freeman of the City of London, where he returned to become a Chelsea Pensioner in recent years. He died peacefully at Royal Chelsea Hospital on Thursday.

Fay Vass, current chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said: “He was instrumental in giving the hedgehog the high profile that it now enjoys.

“The society has 11,000 members, publishes regular newsletters and works tirelessly to improve awareness of the plight of the hedgehog.

“He was well known to members of parliament for his campaigns to help the hedgehog, had appeared many times on television and given countless radio broadcasts.

“We are deeply saddened by loss of someone who did so much for hedgehogs.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Adrian, who leaves our thriving active charity as a legacy to us all. Our work will continue, that is what Major Hedgehog would have wished,” she said.

Among his achievements with the charity was getting the design of cattle and sheep grids changed so that those on public highways are obliged to have a “hedgehog ramp” to enable small animals and birds to make their escape should they fall in.

Major Coles was born in Westminster, London, in May 1930, the son of a First World War veteran, and began his military career when conscripted into the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, training in Blandford under the “trade” of clerk.

During his service he was a regular soldier in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and later a parachutist in the Parachute Brigade, completing 25 years in the regular and territorial armies. He was posted all over Europe, including in north Italy, Germany and Cyprus, for which he was awarded a General Service Medal.

In Shropshire he became the longest serving member of Shropshire County Council, representing the Clee Hill division for nearly 40 years and chairing various committees. He was on South Shropshire District Council for 32 years, chairman for three, and Caynham Parish Council for more than 39 years, chairman for 14.

Over the years he held more than a dozen other public and charitable roles, including vice chairman of West Mercia Police Authority, governor of more than one school and Royal British Legion branch president, in the latter role overseeing the construction of Guy Thornycroft Court, a British Legion residential complex in Ludlow.

His son Paul Coles said he was a tireless campaigner for various issues, including to have the law changed so household electrical items had to be sold with a correct “sealed unit” plug as they are today.

He added: “In Shropshire, as a result of his efforts, many new replacement village halls were commissioned and paid for from public funds, also he successfully campaigned for all elections to be held in the nearest appropriate hall, whereas previously elections were held in the village school which was closed for the day.

“Adrian always regarded one of his greatest successes as the provision, for the first time, of main sewerage to his home village of Knowbury. Public money was short at that time – what’s new – and it was a matter of cajoling and persuading his fellow councillors and officers of the dire need of the scheme for sanitation reasons.

“His proudest and most memorable four years was as the civic and ceremonial head of the county, representing the authority as ‘first citizen’ on royal visits, charity events, opening new roads and by-passes and welcoming conventions and conferences.

“He even entertained Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to luncheon, proposing the loyal toast and making a speech with Her Majesty seated at his side.”

Paul said: “Adrian was incredibly active and independent to the very end. He finished his life as a Chelsea Pensioner at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. He said that he wished to die ‘with his boots on’.”

Major Coles was married to wife Pam Coles, who passed away in 2011, and leaves four children and six grandchildren.

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