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.”
Minister kicks access issue into long grass
THE SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT of Natural Resources Consultation process has finally concluded, but there’s no sign of progress, according to Rebecca Williams, Director of CLA Cymru.
Saying that the time has come to make decisions, Ms Williams said: “How we manage our natural resources, must form part of our vision for a vibrant, sustainable, competitive rural economy delivering against a range of public goods.
Responding to the Welsh Government Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM’s statement summarising the responses to the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation, Rebecca Williams, Director CLA Cymru, said: “We have a unique opportunity to define the future of land management in Wales. Our government processes really must deliver better and faster results. We need to find answers to the vital questions in land management about how the Welsh Government’s Five Core Principles be delivered as a working plan.”
“Last year’s SMNR consultation addressed a very broad range of issues many of which were complex, others seemed disjointed from the main theme. This was an unwieldy and demanding exercise both for organisations and for individuals. The process was protracted, the outcome has been delayed. The substantial number of responses may be encouraging to the Government, but it does also bear witness to the level of concern about the potential vital impact the proposals may have on rural business and the countryside community. There is no doubt that greater subtlety and engagement is required in stakeholder-management.”
While there were over 19,000 responses to the consultation, over 16,000 of those were focussed on one issue – access to land. Of those 16,000 responses, only around 450 answered the questions posed by the consultation and there was a massive number of responses from individuals and campaign groups in favour of widening access to the countryside.
The Welsh Government has, however, shied away from specific legislation to provide greater rights for ramblers, canoeists, cyclists, and other groups in favour of achieving more access to Wales’ countryside.
In a written statement delivered to the Assembly on June 19, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn said: “There were strong but differing views on how best to reform access legislation. We therefore believe that now is not the right time for substantive reform. But we are committed to exploring selected aspects of change where there was greater consensus, including on some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We will continue to facilitate further discussions through established groups such as the National Access Forum.”
Those remarks have been met with disappointment from Ramblers Cymru, the charitable organisation and campaign group that fights for walkers’ access to land.
Angela Charlton, Director of Ramblers Cymru told The Herald: “‘As Wales’ walking charity working to protect and expand the places people love to walk, Ramblers Cymru is disappointed that a year after this consultation was held, we are no clearer about Welsh Government’s ultimate vision for improving access to the Welsh outdoors.”
Ms Charlton drew attention to consultations not producing positive results in terms of policy or legislation, continuing: “We have had 2 major consultations on these issues in the last 3 years, and now face further consultation on as yet undefined changes.
“Through our campaign over 2,500 people took the time to support our call for increased and improved access and protection of our paths, and it is frustrating that we seem no closer to seeing the changes needed. We are however, pleased to continue engaging with Welsh Government to ensure Wales is a world class country for walking and will continue putting proposals forward to help achieve this.”
While the NFU noted the strength of the responses regarding access to land, NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “The consultation contained a number of proposals that were extremely worrying to farmers including granting higher access rights which would have enabled cycling and horse riding on footpaths as well as extending and amending the list of restrictions on CRoW land. We, therefore, welcome the announcement from the Environment Minister that now is not the right time for substantive reform.”
John Davies continued: “We note, however, the Welsh Government is committed to exploring aspects of change where the consultation process showed greater consensus including some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We await information on what these specific areas will be and would highlight that, given 80% of the land area of Wales is agricultural land, farmers are key providers of the landscape and countryside upon which many access and recreational activities depend. Any reforms must consider the safety of access users and should not result in increased costs, burden and liabilities being placed on farmers in Wales.
“We are pleased that the consultation process revealed consensus in the area of keeping dogs on fixed length leads in the vicinity of livestock, which was a generally accepted proposal. The worrying of livestock by dogs is a key concern to our members and we would hope this is an area that can be progressed in the near future.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: ” The FUW welcome the news that the Welsh Government have decided now is not the right time for a substantive review to reform access legislation.
“Wales has approximately 16,200 miles of footpaths, 3,100 miles of bridle-paths, and 1,200 miles of byways, and since 1998 the area of land accessible by right to the public has increased threefold. The evidence makes it clear people are not using what is already there, so any changes should focus on increasing responsible use of existing access.”
‘Be seen on farm’: FUW
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has launched new reflective armbands as part of its commitment to promote farm safety.
The new armbands can be worn by all family members to help them to be seen better in the dark and will be available from all FUW stands during the show season.
FUW Marketing Manager Meryl Roberts said: “If we are seen we are much safer and these armbands are a practical addition to any farm outfit. Of course, it won’t fix all of the problems but it might just help a little, given that most farm clothes are dark and farming doesn’t stop just because the sun has gone down.
“The armbands are functional and can be worn in all types of weather. And above all, they support our commitment as a Union to promote farm safety in any way we can. Being seen is the first step to keeping safe after all, so get in touch with your local FUW office to get your free armband today or come see us at your local county show!”
Passionate young farmers wanted!
A GROUP of enthusiastic young farmers, who are making a real difference within farming and have great stories to tell, are being sought to join the NFU in one of the most popular historic civic pageants in the world.
The NFU has launched a competition to find eight young farmers who will land starring roles representing British farming in the 2018 Lord Mayor’s show and take the Back British Farming message to the streets of the City of London.
The 803rd parade takes place on Saturday, November 10, and is featured in a live BBC broadcast. The NFU will be joined by Massey Ferguson to support the Worshipful Company of Farmers in this year’s show. The entry will incorporate a tractor, combine harvester and food with the participants providing the heart and soul of the exhibit.
As an additional prize this year, Massey Ferguson is inviting one of the young farmers on a special trip to Beauvais in Northern France as a guest to tour the factory and enjoy an overnight stay.
NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “It’s always great fun having the young farmers with us at the Lord Mayor’s Show as it provides the perfect platform to engage with the watching crowds and let them know about farming’s role in producing their food and looking after the iconic British countryside.
“We are hoping this competition, with the added incentive of a trip to the Massey Ferguson factory in France, will help showcase another group of young farmers who’re all enthusiastic and passionate about what they do – producing the nation’s food.”
NFU Cymru member, Tom Rees, who was part of the young farmer group last year, said: “For me, participating in the Lord Mayor’s Show as the NFU Cymru representative was a once in a lifetime experience – a particular highlight was seeing the enthusiasm the British public had for British farmers – it was fantastic to see everyone fully support the campaign and message we were promoting.
“It’s so important that we, as the future generation of farmers, open a dialogue with the public about the provenance of their food and the Lord Mayor’s Show is an excellent way to do so.
“If you are a young farmer who is passionate about the future of our industry then I would encourage you to apply and get your voice heard.”
The NFU is asking for nominations for young farmers, aged 18-30, who have made an outstanding contribution to the farming sector and who are passionate about the industry. Please include as much information as possible on why you think your nominee deserves to represent British farming and the wider farming industry at this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show.
Nominations close on Sunday 19 August and a shortlist of finalists will be drawn up for 31 August by a panel of farming experts
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