A survey of badger populations carried out by the Central Science Laboratory last year has shown badgers are now as common as foxes across large parts of the English countryside. The NFU insists that a targeted cull to reduce the incidence of bovine TB would not represent any threat to badger numbers overall.
The survey, available on the DEFRA website, was carried out in the spring and autumn of 2006 in four study regions in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Researchers found that badger population densities in open pasture were 4.3/sq Km in Devon, 3.3/sq Km in Gloucestershire, 2.9/sq Km in Cornwall and 1.5/sq Km in Herefordshire.
These were broadly similar to the numbers of foxes found in open pasture in the four study areas, and significantly higher than numbers of hares and deer.
The survey also looked at hedgehog populations and found a clear correlation between high numbers of badgers and low numbers of hedgehogs. This confirms the findings of previous surveys that predation by a rapidly increasing badger population has been the key factor in the hedgehog’s decline.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the survey confirmed that there were no wildlife conservation reasons why a TB cull should not go ahead, and at least two good reasons why it should.
“This removes another potential obstacle to tackling the TB reservoir in wildlife,” he said. “The badger is clearly thriving across large parts of the west of the country. A targeted cull aimed at diseased social groups would make very little difference to numbers overall, and surely it would be in the interests of badgers to have a healthy badger population along with avoiding the spread of bovine TB from badgers to cattle and other wildlife.”