THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.
The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.
However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”
A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.
“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.
The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”
Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”
Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.
The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.
In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.
In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.
Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.
Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.
In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.
While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.
Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.
“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”
Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences
ON JULY 10, Dylan Williams of Neuaddlwyd Uchaf, Neuaddlwyd, Ciliau Aeron appeared before magistrates at Aberystwyth Justice Centre and was sentenced for animal by-products and animal welfare offences.
Mr Williams, 47, had previously appeared at the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court where he entered pleas of guilty to the four offences brought before the court by Ceredigion County Council.
On 11 April 2018, 47 sheep carcasses in various states of decomposition were found on Mr Williams’ land, and these were accessible to live sheep and their young lambs. This formed the basis of the offence brought under The Animal By-Products Regulations which requires carcasses to be disposed of without undue delay, due to the risk to animal and public health.
The majority of the flock inspected on the day were seen with severe wool loss and irritated skin which are signs of sheep scab. Sheep scab is a debilitating condition which can lead to weight loss and thickened skin with scabs due to the intense, uncomfortable itching caused by the condition.
There were three separate offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, two of which were for causing unnecessary suffering to two ewes. One ewe was suffering from severe weakness due to scab infestation. Another ewe was found unconscious on the land with her intestines protruding from her flank, likely due to predation as she had also suffered from scab over a prolonged period.
Another offence related to Mr Williams’ failure to ensure the welfare needs of his flock were met by his failure to properly inspect the flock and to manage and treat the sheep scab effectively.
Magistrates sentenced Mr Williams to a community order with a requirement that he carried out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community, he was also ordered to pay the investigation and legal costs of the council which amounted to £1648.
Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer with responsibility for Policy and Performance said, “The council is deeply saddened that yet another serious animal health offence has been committed within the county. It is to the credit of our staff that they have undertaken a successful prosecution of this case.
Our animal welfare officers and our legal team had no option but to carry the prosecution due to the seriousness of the offences committed. I would urge individual farmers who are facing difficulties in caring for their stock to seek advice from the County Council and the Farming Unions.”
Aeron Valley farmers thinking creatively for their future
A RESEARCH STUDY called Pweru’r Dyffryn delivered by Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is looking into the feasibility of powering businesses and households in the Aeron Valley.
The study is looking into creating a community body to develop local renewable energy sources which would aim to create a source of income for powering the economy of mid Ceredigion. The study is also looking into creating a sustainable source of income to develop the local economy of the Aeron Valley.
The feasibility study is funded through Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. This is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
The concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn (Powering the Valley) was developed by the Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf. Many members of the Gweithgor are young farmers in the area. They want to not only secure a way of life and affordable energy, but also invest in their future.
The farmers of Dyffryn Aeron first set up the community cooperative company Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf in response to the closure of dairy factories in the valley. The Gweithgor helped a local company to re-open the site of one factory as a centre of local employment.
Through this they found that energy costs were high in the area and could threaten the long term sustainability of businesses in the area.
Euros Lewis is a Director of Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf and is Pweru’r Dyffryn’s Project Manager. He said: “Responding creatively is the way forward and that’s what these young farmers have done.”
From here the concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn was developed, which began with local consultations across the whole of the Aeron Valley. It asked local communities what form of renewable energy they did and didn’t want to see developed in the area and how would they want revenue from any potential scheme to be spent. The purpose of the consultations were to develop a model that will meet the needs and potential of the local communities first and foremost.
The feasibility scheme received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council.
The next step for Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is the publication of a comprehensive report of the local consultation and its findings for future potential developments. The consultation’s early findings include that large scale wind turbines would not be welcome, while there is support for further research as to the potential of waterways and solar power for the generation of local, sustainable energy.
The development of the scheme will be long-term with challenges along the way but Euros Lewis believes to change the lives of the local people and to develop the local economy ‘that the basic principle is to act for ourselves and this is what we are doing.’
Councillor Rhodri Evans is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration. He said: “It’s very encouraging to see rural society in Ceredigion ambitiously looking to the future. Cynnal y Cardi supports them closely and I’m sure they wil see success in the future.”
All ideas are welcome on a rolling basis and project officers are at hand to assist you. The closing dates in 2019 for submission of expressions of interest are 9 September and 11 November. All submissions are welcome in Welsh or English.
Farming faces zero carbon challenge
AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.
According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.
“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.
“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.
“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.
“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.
“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
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