Thursday, May 10, 2007

"As common as foxes..."

....and much more common now, than hedgehogs.The density of badgers in bTb hotspots surveyed last year by the Central Science Laboratory, has found that badgers are now more common than foxes, hares or deer and certainly the hedgehog. They conclude that this dramatic increase is in direct correlation to the decline of hedgehogs in pasture land. Some were found in 'amenity grassland' , and by that we assume the authors mean parks and playing fields, but in Devon and Gloucestershire not a single little Mrs. (or Mr.) Tiggywinkle was recorded on pasture land.

We are aware that people involved in hedgehog rescue schemes, are warned that if a badger sett is within a certain distance from their dwelling, then rescuing hedgehogs is not something in which they can be involved. "We are not allowed to" one lady told us. The reason is that to the all powerful, omnivourous badger, a hedgehog is merely a quite large, prickly orange, to be rolled over and peeled. Alive.

The survey was conducted during spring and autumn of 2006, ahead of any possible change in 'management' policy of badgers, as a precurser to assessing any change in population status and in the areas surveyed, Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Hereford, the badger population outweighed foxes - and certainly hedgehogs.

Full report can be found on the
Defra Website


Anonymous said...

From Trevor Lawson, Badger Trust

NFU gets it wrong on badgers - again
Badger Trust for immediate release

The Badger Trust today mocked the National Farmers Union (NFU) for failing to understand basic scientific research into badgers and other British mammals.

The NFU claims[1] that a Central Science Laboratory survey "has shown badgers are now as common as foxes across large parts of the English countryside". The NFU also claims that the survey confirms "that predation by a rapidly increasing badger population has been the key factor in the hedgehog's decline".

But Trevor Lawson, public affairs advisor to the Badger Trust, commented:

"The NFU just can't seem to grasp basic scientific research. This project is not a population survey. It tells us how many badgers, foxes and other species can be seen foraging in a specific place - open pasture - but it doesn't tell us how many there are overall.

"It's no surprise that badger sightings are similar to those for foxes. The JNCC Tracking Mammals partnership[3] reported estimated populations of 240,000 foxes and 288,000 badgers in 2005. But the fox population is not a natural figure, since foxes are controlled and numbers could be higher.

"The NFU wrongly claims that culling 'diseased social groups' of badgers would help control bovine TB. In fact, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial shows that this kind of culling makes the situation worse[4].

"Contrary to the NFU's claim that a rapidly increasing badger population is to blame for a decline in hedgehogs, the report provides no evidence of an increasing badger population and the authors state: 'there was no overall correlation between mean hedgehog density within a survey area and badger encounter rate'.

"Badgers forage on open pasture for earthworms, so they are very likely to be seen there. Hedgehogs also like earthworms, but it was shown more than ten years ago that they avoid habitats that smell of badgers, in order to avoid being eaten by badgers[5]. So, if you look for hedgehogs in places where there are badgers, you are not likely to see them exposing themselves to danger.

"The NFU is clutching at straws and, once again, it's pulled the short one."


Notes to editors:

1. Pryke, C. (2007), Badgers as common as foxes - Defra survey, NFU press release, Warwickshire.
2. CSL (2007) Establishment of baseline population densities for the monitoring of badgers and other selected species, Defra project WM0311, Central Science Laboratory, York.
3. Battersby, J. (2005) UK Mammals: Species status and population trends. JNCC/Tracking Mammals Partnership ISBN 1 861075 68 5 4. Donnelly, C.A., et al., Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle. Nature, 2005.
5. Ward, J.F. et al (1996), Responses of foraging hedgehogs to badger odour, Animal Behaviour, 53, 4, p 709-720.

Matthew said...

We were careful not to quote anyone's press release and a link is provided to the paper itself. So Trevor, we find your carefully orchestrated press release is a tad 'short'. For accuracy, which we're sure you'll agree is an important part of the debate, we will quote the report.

You say: "Contrary to the NFU's claim that a rapidly increasing badger population is to blame for a decline in hedgehogs, the report provides no evidence of an increasing badger population and the authors state: 'there was no overall correlation between mean hedgehog density within a survey area and badger encounter rate'.

Yup, it does, but in the following (full) context, which gives a slightly different view:

"The occurrence of hedgehogs (percentage of fields with hedgehogs present ) on pasture was MARKEDLY LOWER than on amenity grassland. In total, hedgehogs were recorded on 3 (2 per cent) of pasture fields, and on 32 (26 percent) of 125 amenity grasslands. Regionally the percentage of hedgehogs were recorded varied between 19 percent and 30 percent. Hedgehogs were not recorded at all on pasture in two regions (Devon and Gloucestershire.)

The mean density of hedgehogs was significantly greater in amenity grassland than in pasture in all four regions. For AMENITY GRASSLAND (That Trevor, was the bit you missed - although not deliberately we're sure) there was no overall correlation between hedgehog density within the suvey area and badger density (from distance sampling)".
The paper continues:

"Relatively HIGH DENSITIES of HEDGEHOGS, however, occurred almost exclusively in areas with relatively LOW BADGER ENCOUNTER rates."

But none at all on the pasture land surveyed in Devon and Glos. Not one.

We are sure you are right that given a chance, hedgehogs will avoid an omnivouous predator who is likely to flip him over, pin down his front feet and peel him like a Jaffa, leaving just his empty, prickly skin. However we have yet to meet a turbo charged hedgehog so we shall have to accept that on the pastureland of Devon and GLoucestershire, Cornwall and Hereford as the paper says, they were just not quick enough.