My talk to the Wilder Bramley group on Friday was well received and I'm grateful to the organisers for inviting me to speak about badger ecology and the many threats badgers face at the hands of people. Evidently there was some debate afterwards with non-audience members from the village who expressed some pretty ill-informed views from the cull right through to hedgehog predation.
Here are a couple of links to help anyone who prefers to deal in facts rather than anecdotes. The first, here, is the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust's stance on the cull. I'm still trying to get closer to them to see how we can force an end to culling in the county before the 2023 killing spree gets underway.
The second link here is to the "State of Britain's Hedgehogs Survey (2022)" co-authored by the People's Trust For Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Badgers will predate hedgehogs but (a) it's not a staple/regular dietary item and (b) they're not the cause of hedgehog decline in the UK. (And (c) we call that nature!) In fact, based on the numbers in the report it's likely that there are more hedgehogs in the UK than badgers at the moment. The former are listed as "endangered". The latter are part of a Government-led, farmer-encouraged, extermination programme.
Keep in mind the following and please feel free to cut and paste any of the statements below if you need to inform and educate anyone on this topic. Or feel free to point them in my direction.
Scotland study 1981 – dominant food at every sett surveyed was earthworms (1,600 setts).
South West England study - 75% of badgers studied had earthworms in their stomachs and 57% of them contained nothing but earthworms.
All studies (including in China and Spain) show earthworms comprise 50-60% of a badger's diet (up to 80% in some studies).
Badgers are "opportunistic omnivores" and forage with their nose down, eating what they find. Despite being "apex predators" (they have no natural predators themselves because we killed all the wolves/lynx/bears in this country) they don't hunt.
Badgers' diets can include small mammals including young rodents & rabbits (up to 10%) and insects (up to 15%). Their diet includes wasp grubs, bee larvae, beetles, fruit & veg, slugs, snails, birds (incl. eggs), mammals, cereals and fungi.
"State of Britain's Hedgehogs Survey (2022)" - "hedgehogs occupy only about a fifth of the rural landscape. Their presence is inversely related to the density of badger setts, but hedgehogs are also absent from 71% of sites that had no badger setts”.
"State of Britain's Hedgehogs Survey (2022) - “hedgehogs follow linear features in the environment and do so more where there are badgers. We don’t yet know the extent to which the loss of hedgerows or poorer quality hedgerows* increases the risk of predation by badgers”. British Hedgehog Preservation Society - "pointing the finger at a single cause, such as predation by badgers or road casualties, misses the bigger more complex picture".
"State of Britain's Hedgehogs Survey (2022. - "hedgehog sightings fell dramatically between 2004 and 2015 showing population decline was sudden and sharp, a trend unlikely to be caused by predation".
"State of Britain's Hedgehog Survey (2022) - "rates of hedgehog decline were the same in areas where badgers do not live".
*On farming generally and the state of nature in the UK, the following are from the WWF "Future of Nature" report here:
More than 1 in 7 native UK species face extinction and more than 40% are in decline.
30% of UK birds are threatened with extinction.
The biggest impact on UK wildlife over the last 50 years has been the intensification of agriculture.
Farmland covers 70% of the UK. Since the 1970s, farming has simplified and intensified, providing less and less habitat for native wildlife. While the rate of such habitat loss has slowed in recent times, the situation is still getting worse.
Pollinators, like bumblebees, are in decline and struggling because of habitat loss, due to increased urbanisation and industry, the intensification of agriculture, the heavy use of pesticides and herbicides and a loss of wildflower meadows.
On ground-nesting birds
Badgers will eat eggs/chicks of ground-nesting birds if they encounter them. They don't actively hunt them or rely on them for food. The Central Science Laboratory of York undertook an extensive review of badger data/records and reported avian remains were found in only 2,038 out of 36,699 stomach contents/faecal analysis of badgers. That's 5.5% in total with remains very likely to include scavenged carrion.
On lambs Despite many farmers claiming to have witnessed badgers predating on sheep/lambs nobody, not even the National Sheep Association or the National Farmers Union, has ever commissioned a study into these claims. No scientific evidence has ever been produced and no confirmed data exists.
The natural mortality rate of lambs in the UK is 30%. Badgers will eat any carrion they encounter especially in periods of low food supply/drought and have been filmed eating lamb carcasses. No verified footage exists of badgers "predating" on lambs or sheep.
A 2017 Natural Resources Wales paper to farmers describes even that activity (badgers eating lamb carcasses) as “generally considered to be unusual behaviour for this species”.
I chose the photo that accompanies this piece because it's real and not photoshopped. It doesn't mean that all weasels are airborne.
If anyone wants to get hold of the correspondence I've had with Ranil Jayawardena, Richard Benyon, the APHA or the BTB Engage team about the cull then it's all available on my personal "ecolelogical" blog (I know, great name, right?!) here. I've still got to upload the last letter from Ranil enclosing one from Benyon and I'll do that when I've carved out the time to reply to them properly later this week. My blog's not entirely badger related, although all the recent posts have been, and there's stuff on there ranging from raptor poisoning and commercial shooting through to fox-hunting. Sorry...trail-hunting...
Photo by Martin Le-May, Essex, of a green woodpecker attacked by a weasel