Thursday, July 15, 2004

Cause & effec t - A farmer forum.

"There are 2 sorts of cattle farms. Those with Tb and those who are going to get it". NFU Wales.

"Where you are farming cattle, you are esentially farming badgers"
Dr. Chris Cheeseman, Woodchester Park.

Several farmers who have experienced Tb in their herds have contacted the authors to support Bryan Hill's observations of changes in badger behaviour, which they noticed prior to a herd breakdown.  All have been supported by a badger ecologist, who also pointed out that they are signs of a population at saturation point.  Below is a summary:

1. Badgers dead on the roads.
These will often have been 'marking territories' and will leave territory open to adjacent groups. Several dead in one area, would be an indication of lack of 'alertness' and / or weakness in these victims of RTA kills.

2. Badgers dead in fields.
Really bad news. Only a very sick animal will choose to die in the open, away from shelter and seclusion.

3. Long scratch marks on crossing places.
This indicates overgrown claws. Badgers need short, sharp claws to dig. When the claws are long, hooked and overgrown they can't dig and will seek food elsewhere - often in cattle buildings.

4. Single, often shallow holes, away from main sets.
Although this can be the home of a young lone male, turfed out by the alpha female of a group as his testosterone level rises, it may be the last refuge of a single 'disperser'. These are excuded from the main social group, and often in the later stages of Tb. And if claws are overgrown, the hole will be shallow - just enough to hide.

5. Sets in unusual places, where territorial pressure has pushed a group to build on - for example flood plains. When the water comes in, they will have to swim out and find space elsewhere, provoking the fighting for territory associated with Tb. Flood water also drowns earthworms, the main preferred food source of badgers.

6. Prolonged dry weather.
Will drive worms deeper, and more difficult to dig, especially for those with overgrown claws. Weaker members of the group will often go hungry and enter farm buildings to search for food.

7. A single badger curled up in corner of any building.

8. An active 'run' which suddenly stops.

9. A set where rats, carcasses, or the unmistakable stench of death is coming out.

10. Overpopulation. Too many sets.
Sets encroaching into grassland, rather than in the quiet of woods. Sets under farm buildings and into silos, where there is regular 'people activity'. Dustbins being raided.
The birth of the 'urban badger'?

You shouldn't be aware of badgers. Badgers in the daylight, or an increased 'awareness' that they are around are bad news. All these signs, although they can be associated with the ingress of Tb infected badgers, are also a sign of a grossly overpopulated species.
Any change of cattle farming practise will affect its resident population of badgers whether that is crops grown or cattle numbers.
And the more densely populated the badgers, the bigger the effect.

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