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Badgers and the countryside
Since the badger was made a protected species in 1973 the population has been expanding out of control until it is now, due to overpopulation, having an increasingly deleterious effect on the countryside both by digging and as a relentless predator of vulnerable wildlife.
It is now a serious agricultural and domestic pest in many parts of the country simply from the damage that it does by digging. Many farms and estates, gardens, golf courses, buildings, waterways, graveyards and archaeological sites across the country are now suffering substantial damage simply because of the massive damage caused by excavating badgers. The Llangollen canal in North Wales, for example, suffered major damage to its banks and loss of water in 2005, the cost of repair was estimated at £500,000. A national survey by DEFRA in 1997 of 1800 agricultural properties in England and Wales put the annual damage at £25.7m.
The major diet of badgers is earthworms but the animal is an opportunist feeder and if availability of their preferred diet is removed, as in times of drought, they will eat almost anything - hedgehogs, frogs, toads, grass snakes, free range lambs and piglets, bumble bees, ground nesting birds and their eggs - are all vulnerable. Numbers of skylarks and lapwings have for example plummeted in the last two decades. And as the number of badgers rises inexorably so will this impact on the countryside be increasingly felt .
Hedgehog pelts following evisceration by a badger
Between the two national surveys published in 1988 and 1997 a 77% increase in numbers was identified. This would give a population of 450,000 adult animals in 1997 from the earlier figure of 250,000 in 1988 and assuming a similar rise in the last decade it seems reasonable therefore to estimate current numbers to be not less than 800,000. A recent survey published in 2014 has confirmed the inexorable rise in the population, particularly in England.
The badger, a large mammal with no natural predators other than man, is a classic example of a population out of control through lack of management. It is not an endangered species and does not merit its protected status. This should be removed and similar legislation, as for deer, including a close season, put in place whereby local landowners and farmers are allowed to control their badger populations. Such measures would reduce damage to the countryside, reduce predation on vulnerable wildlife and relieve the badger population itself from the adverse effects of overpopulation such as loss of territory, fighting, wounding, road accidents, lack of food and starvation (see refs 2002, 2010 and 2012 below).
Non-lethal (artificial) methods of population control, which are attractive to research groups and single issue organisations, are impractical, unnecessary, unproven and ethically questionable.
A return to earlier population levels prior to the Badger Acts of 1973 and 1992 is urgently needed.
Apart from benefiting the badger population per se from the adverse effects of overpopulation, and the countryside in general, a substantial reduction in the national badger population would in itself radically mitigate the risk of transmission of bovine TB from badgers to cattle and the zoonotic risk to humans.
- Submission to Law Commission's review of wildlife legislation - November 2012
- Submission to DEFRA consultation on bovine TB and badger culling - December 2010
- Comment on DEFRA's England Wildlife Health Strategy, June 2009
- Badgers must be controlled – Letter to The Field, May 2007
- The need to manage some wildlife populations, Symposium paper, November 2002
- Letter to Vet Record - Bovine TB; the current situation and need, April 2000