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.”
New HCC Chair appointed
WALES’ Minister for Rural Affairs last week announced the upcoming appointment of a new Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).
Catherine Smith, a board member of HCC since 2017, will take over from incumbent Chair Kevin Roberts on April 1, 2021.
Catherine is a food business consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in the red meat sector in procurement, processing and manufacturing. She is also a farmer’s daughter and wife, who lives with her husband and three children on a mixed farm in Monmouthshire.
She will be the first woman to take on the role since the formation of HCC in 2003.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, announced the appointment on Wednesday, February 3.
The Minister said: “I would like to congratulate Catherine Smith for her upcoming appointment to the role of Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – and would also like to thank outgoing Chair Kevin Roberts for all his work in the role.
“Catherine brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked within the red meat supply chain for two decades and served as a board member since 2017.
“I am very pleased to be able to announce Catherine as the incoming Chair, particularly given she will be the first woman to come into the role – and I hope her appointment reflects wider trends in business across Wales, especially within the agricultural sector.
“She comes into the role at an especially difficult time, with the red meat sector responding both to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the complexity brought about as a result of the recent end of the EU transition period.”
Catherine said “Having grown up in a farming family, and worked in the food sector for twenty years, I’m very proud to be appointed as Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru.
“My priority will be to deliver for our levy-payers; farmers and processors. This will mean building our red meat brands using inventive and effective marketing, helping our industry to be as profitable as possible, and aiming to lead the world in terms of quality and sustainability.
“HCC has responded to the challenges of EU transition and the Covid-19 pandemic with flexibility, determination and innovation. Building on these strengths the organisation will continue to deliver on the priorities set out in Vision 2025 and support the industry to build its profitability and resilience whilst working closely with Welsh Government and all stakeholders within the supply chain.”
Kevin Roberts, outgoing Chair of HCC, said: “The past few years have certainly had their challenges from issues outside our control.
“I’m proud of the way HCC has responded, growing exports of Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef significantly despite the uncertainty of Brexit, and playing its part in driving a major growth in domestic retail sales to help both farmers and consumers during the COVID pandemic. This has come about with the help of a lot of hard work from Gwyn Howells and his team of staff.
“I wish Catherine well in taking over as Chair during the next exciting period for our sector. Some uncertainties remain, but as we look to the future our brands are very strong; we’re offering what consumers want – high-quality food, traceable right back to the farm, and world-leading credentials in terms of environmental and welfare standards.”
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “I’d like to congratulate Catherine Smith on her appointment as the new Chair of HCC and thank Kevin Roberts for his work and leadership over the past four years.
“Catherine will be taking over at a pivotal time for the red meat sector in Wales as we seek a global market for our products, following our departure from the EU. Welsh red meat is a world-leader in both its quality and sustainability credentials and marketing these strengths, to a global audience, in new and innovative ways, must be a priority for the board.
“Covid-19 has presented unique challenges but also huge opportunities for our products. Consumers’ favourability towards the agricultural industry has never been higher and the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for a constant supply of high-quality food to our customers. As we leave the CAP and design new policies made here in Wales, we need to ensure that we develop a comprehensive food and farming policy. This policy must have an ambition for growth that allows us to capitalise on these great credentials in both our domestic and export markets, in order to deliver a vibrant and prosperous future for everyone involved in the red meat sector in Wales.
“I would like to thank Kevin for his sterling work on behalf of the Welsh red meat industry, being at the helm of the HCC board at a time of unprecedented uncertainty brought upon by Brexit. Throughout his time with HCC Kevin has overseen the publication of the organisation’s Vision 2025 strategy and just recently the Welsh Way document, a strong and robust evidence base to further build our sector as a global leader in sustainability.
“We look forward to working closely with Catherine to ensure HCC delivers for levy-payers across Wales.”
Farming bodies slam ‘narrow-thinking’ WG
WALES’ farming unions and Wales’ YFC have written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to express concerns around the future direction of Welsh agricultural policy, following the publication of the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper.
In a show of unity, NFU Cymru, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) and Wales YFC called upon the Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, to pause and reconsider what a future policy should deliver for the people of Wales.
The three organisations have raised concerns that little has changed over three consultation processes and there remains a lack of ambition for the future of farming in Wales.
The letter states ‘the direction of travel proposed does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming, built around family farms delivering for our economy, our landscape, language and culture. Instead, and most worryingly, it looks as though we are implementing a policy based on a very narrow definition of public goods, policy thinking very similar to what we have seen emanating from elsewhere, rather than a policy ‘Made in Wales’.’
In a joint statement, NFU Cymru and FUW said: “Welsh farming is at a significant crossroads. The decisions taken by policymakers in the coming months will shape and impact the sector for generations to come. Leaving the EU has given us the opportunity within Wales to put together an ambitious policy that enables Wales to lead the way, securing the supply of safe, high-quality affordable food for all in society, delivering jobs and prosperous rural communities, all while enhancing the environment for the benefit of all.
“We have throughout this process recognised and embraced the need for change in the belief that the main opportunity from Brexit was to develop an agricultural policy in Wales for Wales that had its people, the land they farm, and the food they produce at its heart. Collectively we are ambitious for Wales and passionately believe that our sector can play a leading role in the major challenges facing society, not least climate change, all whilst feeding an ever-growing population with the highest quality food and drink produced by the best farmers in the world. Put simply our ambition is for Wales to be recognised as a world-leading country of excellence for climate-friendly farming and food production.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right and enable rural Wales, its people, communities, language, landscape and environment to thrive and as such we urge you to reconsider the direction of travel and work with us to develop a policy that is ambitious and enables us to reach our potential.”
Katie Davies, Wales YFC Chairman, said: “Thousands of young people from across Wales are desperate to forge a career within Welsh agriculture, supporting food and farming. It is imperative that we work together to find a way forward that is both ambitious and creates opportunities for the next generation.”
The White Paper, which stands no chance of getting on the statute book before May’s election, hails the Welsh Government’s consultations with stakeholders. Which stakeholders the Welsh Government has consulted with is not identified in the White Paper. However, the text shows no signs of addressing long-standing concerns about the Welsh Government’s drive to marginalise farmers in favour of voices more congenial to its metropolitan base.
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, praised the letter.
She said: “Farming and agriculture is in the DNA of Wales. Despite the pressures the sector faces even in the best of years, it’s still a big draw for many young people, and a major contributor to the Welsh economy.
“Years of Labour’s mismanagement of the sector based on viewing Wales through the prism of Cardiff Bay led to this letter. I must agree with the NFU, the FUW, and Wales YFC when they say the direction of travel proposed by the Labour Government does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming.
“Labour also seems to be hell-bent on policy ideas that are not ‘Made in Wales’, but ‘Made in Cardiff Bay for Cardiff Bay’.
“In short, the letter is an indictment of years of Labour’s mismanagement of the agricultural sector, a sector like all others that will need specific and thoughtful future policymaking now we have exited the EU, and are looking towards a post-pandemic recovery.
“One thing is clear: recovery for agriculture and other sectors will not come from Labour, but from a Welsh Conservative Government as ambitious and dynamic as the agricultural sector.”
Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences
On 6 January 2021, at Aberystwyth Justice Centre the Magistrates passed sentence on Mr. Toby Holland of Maesgwyn, Blaenporth after he was found guilty in his absence of 10 charges relating to Animal Welfare and Animal By-Products offences.
Following the trial on 3 February 2020, a court warrant was issued for Mr. Toby Holland’ arrest in connection with these offences, and he was arrested by Police in December 2020.
The District Judge, in the trial held on 3 February 2020 heard that Animal Welfare Officers of the Public Protection team visited the farm on the 29 January 2019 and found a number of animal welfare issues. A sheep was found to be lying on its back unable to move and it was evident that it had been there for some time. Despite requesting that Mr. Holland seek veterinary assistance for the animal, a visit the following day had found that he failed to seek treatment for the animal and left it to die. He was found guilty for the unnecessary suffering of this sheep.
The Animal Welfare Officers found a barn containing 19 pigs. On seeing the officers the pigs were shrieking for food. The pigs were very thin and kept in an accumulation of muck with no dry lying area available. Within the pen were two dead pigs to which the live pigs had access. A post-mortem of one of the dead pigs found that the animal had likely died of starvation after finding no fat reserves remaining in the carcass.
The Veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who attended the farm concluded that both the dead and live pigs had been suffering unnecessarily, and Mr. Holland was found guilty of these offences. He was also found guilty of failing to meet the needs of the animals, by failing to provide a dry lying area for the pigs.
The visit on 29 January 2019 also found a number of sheep carcasses strewn across the fields. It was clear that that they had been there for some time, and the live sheep had access to the same field. The District Judge found Mr. Holland guilty of failing to dispose of the carcasses in accordance with the requirements of a notice served under The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2014.
A follow up visit on 30 May 2019 found the pigs were kept in a field where they had access to plastic bags, metal sheeting with sharp edges, and animal bones and skulls. These items could cause harm to pigs, and he was found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of not providing a suitable environment for the pigs. Tthere were sheep carcasses in the fields, that Mr. Holland failed to collect and dispose in accordance with legal requirements. He was found guilty of a further offence under the Animal By-Products Regulations.
He was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment in total for the offences, and he was issued a disqualification order for 2 years from keeping any animals. The Local Authority were awarded £750 costs.
Following sentencing, Cllr Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet member for Public Protection Services, said: “The majority of farmers in Ceredigion have excellent farming practices, that ensures the highest standards of animal welfare. Unfortunately we must deal with a minority who for whatever reason fail to meet basic legal standards. I wish to thank the partner agencies who assisted the authority in the investigation, and the officers for their hard work in handling a difficult case.”
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