Friday, July 07, 2006

The demise of Mrs. Tiggiewinkle.

In previous postings we have explored the relationship - annihilation? - which a burgeoning population of badgers has on other less high profile inhabitants of the British countryside. Earthworms may be their preferred food source, but when the soil is hard, or their population density is too high, (or even the good Doctor Cheeseman is not available with shed loads of peanuts) then practically anything else will suffice. And their number one target is a slow moving hedgehog.

We are grateful to the Farmers Union of Wales for their press release highlighting research from the Central Science Laboratory, which suggests that in areas of high badger density, hedgehogs may be completely wiped out by 2025. To that we may add, as Professor Willie Stanton of the Somerset Wildlife Trust did in his excellent paper which we covered:
..... grey partridge, lapwing, skylarks, bumble bees and slow worms......

NEW research suggests the near extinction of hedgehogs in the British countryside should be blamed on the massive rise in badger numbers and not farming practices, says the Farmers’ Union of Wales.
A scientific article in July’s Journal of Zoology entitled "Abundance of hedgehogs in relation to the density and distribution of badgers" coincides with claims in the current edition of National Geographic magazine that hedgehogs could be extinct by 2025.
The research, by Richard Young of the Central Science Laboratory, showed that "as [badger] sett density increased, both the probability of occurrence of hedgehogs and their abundance decreased". It also suggested that hedgehogs have been eliminated in areas where badger densities are high.
In response to claims that farming practices are to blame for the rapid decline in hedgehog numbers, Carmarthenshire FUW County Executive Officer Peter Davies recently wrote to hedgehog researchers at the University of London expressing the Union’s conviction that badgers are responsible.
He said: "This research highlights what we have been saying for many years, and reiterates what other research, dating back 15 years or more, has also demonstrated.
"Badgers eat just about anything, and hedgehogs are at the top of the menu if they come across them. It is a predator prey relationship, and one wipes out the other.
"By allowing the badger population to grow out of control, politicians and so called conservation groups have upset the balance of nature. As a direct result hedgehogs are now on the endangered list and farmers are getting the blame.

"Some scientists seem obsessed with the idea that the decline is caused by farmers spraying pesticides. Those people should come and visit Wales, where both hedgehogs and pesticides are rare, but we’ve got badgers everywhere.

"In fact, in suburban areas, where hedgehogs do survive, it seems likely that there is far more use of pesticides than in rural Wales."
Last year, the FUW called on conservation groups and politicians to come clean with the general public and admit that badgers were out of control and endangering hedgehogs.
"But the conservation groups kept their heads down and Countryside Minister Carwyn Jones even suggested that the decline could be due to a shortage of earthworms!" said Mr Davies.
"This seems highly improbable since badgers, whose numbers continue to grow unabated, also depend on earthworms in their diet. I would respectfully suggest that the Minister can’’t have it both ways!"

No comments: