As part of its Christmas charity appeal, Help the hedgehog, The Times has claimed that badgers are predators with a "taste for hedgehog flesh", and that acceptance of badger culls are necessary for hedgehog populations to recover.
While the newspaper also acknowledged that intensive farming and a lack of habitat may contribute to falling hedgehog numbers, it argued that as badgers and hedgehogs share the same food that when food is scare hedgehogs, which remain one of the UK’s most endangered wildlife species, become prey to badgers.
A report published last month by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), found that Britain’s declining hedgehog population did grow when the badger cull to came into force. But it placed more blame for the species' decline on environmental factors and intensive farming.
Responding to The Times campaign, the Badger Trust has slammed the appeal as as a “Cynical Political Attack”.
CEO of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer said: “We welcome any campaign aimed at drawing public attention to the desperate plight of hedgehogs and the excellent work of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
“However we are appalled by the cynical way The Times is trying to exploit the public’s Christmas goodwill by falsely claiming hedgehog numbers can only recover if we kill more badgers. This suggestion is not only blatantly motivated by political bias but is also not supported by any scientific evidence. The Times is yet again supporting the government’s badger cull policy but this time is widening the ‘badger blame game’ to include hedgehogs.”
Chairman of the Badger Trust Peter Martin added: “Between 40 to 80 per cent of the badger’s diet is plant based depending on the time of year, the rest being made up of earthworms and beetles. Whilst badgers are capable of killing hedgehogs they very rarely do.
“Both species compete for the same food and removing one by culling naturally allows the other to thrive. Badgers and hedgehogs have coexisted in ecological balance for hundreds of thousands of years and it is only the destructive intervention of modern farming practices that has altered this balance so disastrously for hedgehogs.”
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society said it did not support a badger cull for the preservation of hedgehogs.
“An analysis of the original badger culling experiments, published in April 2014, shows that, at some sites, hedgehog numbers did increase following reduction in the number of badgers. This is not unexpected, considering what we know of the relationship between hedgehogs and badgers.
“BHPS and Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) do not consider this sufficient evidence to advocate culling badgers as a means of increasing hedgehog numbers, and believe that culling any species in an effort to conserve another is undesirable given better environmental approaches. Indeed, scientific evidence suggests that culling badgers may make the TB situation worse, a further reason why PTES/BHPS would not advocate culling badgers to benefit hedgehogs.”
In response, hedgehog expert, author and ecologist Hugh Warwick has written his thought on the issue. Read here.