Saturday, February 19, 2005

"Total Protection for Badgers - Sense or Sentimentalism?"

In this post we quote from the report by Dr. W. I. Stanton, a former Trustee of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, who has kindly forwarded it for our attention.

"The 'Wind in the Willows' image of the worthy badger, allied with natural revulsion against the cruel sports of badger digging and baiting have resulted in badgers enjoying a degree of legal protection seldom achieved by a single species. The question must be asked: has it a sound scientific basis?"

After observing that in the 1980's badger damage to gardens, property and other wildlife was rare, in the mid 1990's Dr. Stanton undertook a comprehensive and detailed study of badger setts in an area of 4 square km near his village, Westbury-sub-Mendip. He used methodology employed in the 1997 'Harris' survey of badger population.

In this 4 sq km area, Dr. Stanton mapped "21 main setts, some large and complex with as many as 20 entrances: 9 annex setts with fewer but well used entrances: 13 subsiduary setts, frequently but less intensively used and 59 outlying setts, with a few entrances in part time use".

To put this into context, Dr. Stanton quotes the late Ernest Neal who mapped badger setts throughout the British Isles in the 1940's and later, reporting in 1969 "The greatest density ( of badgers) is a broad belt from Cornwall through Devon, Somerset (including the Mendips), Gloucestershire, and the Midlands to the Dee estuary. Badgers were 'very numerous', 'very common', or 'abundant' within this belt, where (this is the interesting bit) just under one sett per square mile was typical".

"The first national survey of badger setts in 1988 assumes that each social group consisted of 6 badgers, using various of these setts. On this basis Neal (1989) reported that in 33 sq km of "excellent badger country" there were about 324 adult badgers (10 per sq km) . However the Harris report in 1997, found evidence that the size of the social groups had increased, perhaps to as many as 8 or 9 adult badgers".

Dr.Stanton applied this basic criteria to his survey of setts and found that on the 1988 terms it equated to 126 adult badgers in the 4 sq km, and in the revised Harris method of 1988, as many as 168 - 189.

This density of 37 adult badgers per sq. km, Dr. stanton compares with earlier descriptions ;

"1 per sq km. in areas of GB where badgers were 'abundant' in the 1940's" (Neal 1969)
"3 per for Somerset as a whole in the 1980's" (Neal 1989)
"10 per sq km. in "excellent badger country" of Milverton. (Neal 1989)

Having noted this huge rise in badgers around the area, Dr. Stanton and his neighbours also noted the disappearance of hedgehogs and slow worms, but other species recorded as having been taken by badgers included bantams, (chicks / eggs) lambs and grass snakes.

Dr. Stanton concludes: "Normally animals are 'protected' when they are rare or endangered. In Britain the badger is neither. Given that man was always the main and since the 1740's the only, predator of badgers in Britain - it is not in the least surprising that when human predation was legally terminated in the 1980's the badger population hugely expanded"

"There can be no doubt that sentimentalism and not sense is the attitude that now, sheltering behind Acts of Parliament that were passed for a different purpose, prevents the rational control of badgers".

"Badgers need to be controlled, like rabbits, rats, foxes,grey squirrels, deer and other animals that easily multiply to the point where they prejudice the well-being or humans or other wildlife - including themselves. Logically control should be a humane cull. Badger numbers should be reduced until they make up a small and respected component of local wildlife, as they did before the 1970's, causing negligible harm to farmers, gardners and the general public and allowing repopulation by those elements of wildlife that the badger has exterminated, in particular hedghogs, slow worms, grass snakes and toads."

"Ideally" Dr. Stanton says "the pre 1973 population of an area should be re-established. One badger social group per 1 sq. km and no setts at all within say, 750 m of human dwellings, or areas of particular importance to endangered prey species such as ground nesting birds"

That sounds pretty sensible - to anyone who values a balanced ecology, and doesn't derive a good living from single species protection.

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