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.”
Lampeter Green Infrastructure projects funding plans to be submitted after Cabinet approval
The council will submit funding applications for two green infrastructure projects in Lampeter after the Cabinet approved the submission of the plans on 28 January 2020. The plans will be submitted to the Welsh Government.
It comes after Welsh Government recently announced the availability of a £5m ‘Green Infrastructure Fund’ for all Local Authorities in Wales to apply to.
Green Infrastructure is a design principle where greenery and vegetation is introduced into built up areas to increase urban greening and help urban cooling, reducing water run-off and improving residents well-being.
One of the proposed projects is the ‘Lampeter Green Corridor’ which involves the improvement of an all access path linking the North and the South of town through the University. The other proposed plan is the ‘Market Street Pedestrian Prioritisation’ which would see the area enhanced with a sustainable drainage system, tree planting, seating and spaces for market stalls and pop up stands.
Rhodri Evans is the Cabinet member responsible for Economy and Regeneration. He said, “This investment in Lampeter demonstrates how Green Infrastructure investments can both help our environment and be extremely beneficial for the town. As well as improving pedestrian accessibility, it has the potential of bringing more business in to the town with market and pop up stalls.
This decision supports the council’s corporate priorities of Promoting Environmental & Community Resilience and Boosting the Economy.
More slaughter as TB strategy fails
THE LATEST data relating to bovine TB in Wales has revealed an alarming and unsustainable rise in the number of cattle slaughtered due to this disease.
According to recent data, the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales in the 12 months to October 2019 was 12,742 and this is the highest number on record.
Indeed, whilst the most recent data reveals a 12% fall in New Herd Incidents in the 12 months to October 2019, the number of cattle slaughtered over the same period was 24% higher than the previous year.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Although the data from TB Dashboard shows improvement in some areas, the number of cattle slaughtered remains unsustainably high. Just 917 cattle were culled in 1996 due to this disease and it is a sad and disturbing fact that the Welsh cattle sector has now become somewhat used to cattle slaughterings reaching the many thousands each year.”
The Union President added that losing TB-free status is devastating to farming families and their businesses. “The loss of precious stock and the restrictions on a farm business can be incredibly destructive and it is extremely distressing for our members who have worked hard to gain TB-free status, only to lose it again in the subsequent years.
“A TB breakdown is not only financially crippling for the farm, but also impacts more widely as struggling farm businesses are less able to contribute to both the local economy and further afield.”
High sensitivity testing, such as gamma testing and the removal of inconclusive reactors at severe interpretation, is blamed for some of this rise. However, this will be of little comfort to FUW members, many of whom have seen a huge number of cattle removed from their farm, he added.
“Despite a wealth of evidence on the important contribution of wildlife control to TB eradication in some places, the current TB programme continues to focus almost entirely on cattle controls.
“The FUW has continued to reiterate members concerns regarding the implementation of measures such as high sensitivity testing, without significant measures to tackle the disease in wildlife.
“The number of cattle herds registered in Wales has declined by 43 per cent since 1996. Bovine TB is one of the most serious issues facing Welsh cattle farmers and a more holistic approach, which seriously tackles the wildlife reservoir, is required urgently,” said Glyn Roberts.
Andrew RT Davies AM/AC – Shadow Minister for Environment, Sustainability, and the Environment – said: “Each month, farmers and others in our rural communities anticipate these figures with apprehension, and with good reason.
“The stats for the year to October 2019 show that 12,742 animals were slaughtered because of bovine TB, which – up from 10,303 – is a rise of 24 percent on the same period in 2018. England, by contrast, saw a drop of two percent.
“Clearly, the Welsh Labour Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs has not got to grips with her brief in the almost four years in her post, and farmers – and the rural economy – here in Wales suffer as a result.
“But the suffering is not only financial.
“In the Senedd last week my colleague Paul Davies AM/AC spoke passionately on the subject of farmers enduring mental health problems. Bovine TB is another pressure, another cause of stress that our hardworking farmers and their families suffer, and it’s time it ended.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would develop a new, holistic approach for the eradication of bovine TB and look at all options to achieve this.
“Until then, we will harry this Welsh Labour administration to listen to farmers – as well as the Farmers’ Union of Wales and NFU Cymru – to step up its efforts to control this disease and bring this crisis to an end.”
McDonald’s backs Countryside Fund
McDonald’S: Fast-food giant backing Prince Charles’ charity
McDONALD’s UK has entered into a three-year partnership with The Prince’s Countryside Fund, supporting the charity’s work in improving the economic resilience of farming families.
The Prince’s Countryside Fund, set up by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2010, works with farming and rural communities throughout the UK, and to date has provided over £10 million in grant and initiative funding.
Since 2016, the Fund’s flagship scheme, The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, has supported over 900 farming families to improve their business skills with free training and professional advice, in 60 locations across the British Isles. The programme has a track record of success, with evidence of significant behavioural change occurring – 91% of participating families improve their communication, and 89% have a better understanding of costs as a result of taking part.
McDonald’s works with over 23,000 British and Irish farmers, the partnership with the Prince’s Countryside Fund cements the business’ commitment to their futures, as well as the future of the farming industry.
Thanks to the support of McDonald’s, the Fund is launching the ‘Beef it Up’ scheme in 2020, a series of group workshops aimed at livestock farms in the Farm Resilience Programme alumni network. In order to further strengthen these farm businesses, the workshops will address topics including:
Animal health and welfare
The ‘Beef it Up’ workshops will help farms to continuously improve their practices and sustainability performance, by introducing them to practical steps they can take to immediately make changes to their production systems.
McDonald’s already has a proven track record in sharing knowledge through Farm Forward – an agriculture programme with three aims; to develop skills and knowledge in the industry, raise animal welfare standards and encourage environmental improvements to help create a sustainable future for British and Irish farming.
The partnership marks the latest step in McDonald’s sustainability journey and together with The Prince’s Countryside Fund and the business’ suppliers, the partnership will create fresh new solutions to the big challenges the industry is facing, promoting innovation that aims to futureproof the sector.
Claire Saunders, Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “I am thrilled that the Fund will be working again with McDonald’s, in order to help us improve the prospects of family farm businesses across the UK at such a critical time.”
Nina Prichard, Head of Sustainable and Ethical Sourcing at McDonald’s UK & Ireland said: “Our supply chain is absolutely critical to our success – we couldn’t serve the food that we’re famous for without the support and hard work of 23,000 British and Irish farmers. This partnership is an important move in supporting them and securing their future – farming is part of the fabric of our society, and we are delighted to be working with The Prince’s Countryside Fund on this resilience programme.”
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