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Farming

Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’

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Post-badger: A hedgehog experiences nature

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.”

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Farming

First Minister to address FUW’s AGM

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Glyn Roberts: Welcomes First Minister to conference

THE FARMERS’ U​NION OF WALES is looking forward to welcome First Minister Carwyn Jones as the keynote speaker at its annual general meeting, which is taking place on Monday, June 18, at the William Davies Suite, IBERS in Aberystwyth.

The event is due to start at 1​:​30pm with a warm welcome from FUW President Glyn Roberts, which will be followed by a question and answer session on Brexit and #FarmingMatters.

Speaking ahead of the AGM, Glyn Roberts said: “We look forward to welcoming the First Minister to our AGM, which is likely to be his last engagement with the FUW in his current role.

“It promises to be a great afternoon of farming matters discussions, with a strong focus on agriculture in Wales post-Brexit, as well as #FairFarmFunding and I hope to see many of you there.

“And as is tradition we will also be revealing the winners of the FUW Owen Slaymaker Award, FUW New Members Award, and the FUW Long Service Award, in addition to a variety of FUW Insurance Services awards.”

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Farming

Manifesto sets Brexit agenda

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Industry presents united voice: Tariff-free trade a priority

LEADERS of over 100 organisations from across the nation’s food supply chain have put their names to a manifesto setting out the key principles that can help ensure Brexit is a success for the supply of food in the UK.

The UK Food Supply Chain Manifesto, has been drawn up by organisations representing farmers producing the raw ingredients and their suppliers, right through to manufacturers and retailers. It sets out the need for positive outcomes on trade, labour, regulation and domestic agricultural policy.

With little more than 10 months to go before Brexit, the manifesto emphasises the importance of ensuring our departure from the EU does not undermine the food production and supply sectors in the UK.

The manifesto has been sent to the Prime Minister by NFU President Minette Batters on behalf of the signatories, as well as other key cabinet ministers.

Mrs Batters said: “Today we are presenting a united voice as a food and farming sector worth at least £112bn to the UK economy and employing around 4 million people; a food and farming sector that meets 61% of the nation’s food needs with high-welfare, traceable and affordable food; a food and farming sector that cares for three-quarters of the iconic countryside, that, in turn, delivers over £21bn in tourism back to our economy.

“In the manifesto we warn, as a collective, that a Brexit that fails to champion UK food producers, and the businesses that rely on them, will be bad for the country’s landscape, the economy and critically our society. Conversely, if we get this right, we can all contribute to making Brexit a success for producers, food businesses and the British public, improving productivity, creating jobs and establishing a more sustainable food supply system.

“When it comes to the nation’s ability to produce food, we believe it is critical that the different elements of Brexit are carefully considered by all Government departments – including the Prime Minister who has herself spoken about the importance of supporting our sector through Brexit in recent days.

“As we enter this critical period in the Brexit negotiations, the signatories to this manifesto will be looking to Government to ensure its objectives are aligned with ours to ensure British food production – something of which every person in this country enjoys the benefits – gets the best possible deal post-Brexit.”

One key objective in the manifesto appears likely to run headlong into so-called ‘red lines’ set by the most enthusiastic of Parliamentary Brexiteers, who appear happy to countenance a future for food and farming in which small farms and the rural enterprises which depend on them are swept away in a torrent of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.

The report states: ‘The UK and the EU27 will continue to be each other’s most important trading markets in food and drink. In 2016, 60% of UK exports and 70% of UK imports in food, feed and drink were with countries in the EU.

‘Working towards a mutually beneficial trade agreement is a clear priority for the UK food supply chain, one which guarantees tariff-free trade and with as limited a number of non-tariff restrictions as possible. It is imperative that the EU and UK reach an agreement that maintains continuity in existing trade arrangements as far as possible, including the avoidance of a hard border in Northern Ireland’.

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Farming

Avian Influenza Prevention Zone ends

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Restrictions removed: Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary

CABINET S​ECRETARY​ for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths has confirmed that the All Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will be lifted with effect from Friday, May 25.

The Cabinet Secretary has taken this decision based on an updated veterinary risk assessment conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) which found the risk of incursion from wild birds has reduced from High to Low. Similarly, the risk to poultry is also Low.

The Prevention Zone was introduced on January​ 25​ to mitigate the risk of infection following three separate findings in England of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N6 in Wild Birds.

In Wales, there has been only one finding in a wild bird this year. There have been no cases of H5N6 avian influenza in poultry in the UK this year and the poultry sector retains its OIE disease free status.

Cabinet Secretary said: “In January, I took action and declared the whole of Wales an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in response to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N6 findings in England. This was a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of infection to poultry here in Wales.

“We have since been monitoring the situation closely and the latest risk assessment by APHA has concluded that the risk has reduced from High to Low for wild birds and the risk to poultry is also Low.

“Based on this evidence-based veterinary advice I am pleased to announce that the current All Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will come to an end with immediate effect. Whilst this is welcome news it is important to remember avian influenza remains a constant and real threat to our poultry and other captive birds.”

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop added: “I cannot stress enough the need for all keepers of poultry and other captive birds to remain vigilant for signs of the disease and to continue to practice the very highest levels of biosecurity.

“If anyone suspects disease they should contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately. Also, we can all play a part in supporting the ongoing surveillance by reporting any findings of dead wild birds to the GB helpline.

“I would also like to remind all poultry keepers with 50 birds or more they must register their flocks on the Poultry Register and strongly encourage all poultry keepers, including those with fewer than 50 birds, to register. This will ensure they can be contacted immediately, via email or text update, in an avian disease outbreak, enabling them to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity and minimise the spread of infection.​”​

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