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Hedgehogs and Badgers

Rural Matters

Article written by 21 February 2013

Most people seem unaware that badgers are very fond of eating hedgehogs.  Foxes find hedgehogs very prickly and tend to leave them alone, whereas badgers have absolutely no problem with eating a hedgehog with the quills on without causing the badger discomfort.  Presumably this is because they eat them from the underside where there are no quills.

There will  be other reasons why hedgehogs are so much in decline at the current time, but it is interesting that in 1974 four hedgehogs only were introduced to South Uist in the Western Isles as a natural form of pest control, for the snails and slugs which were living in some well meaning but very misguided individual’s garden.  By 2002, this population of four hedgehogs had grown to five thousand producing ten thousand young a year!  As most people will know, Scottish Natural Heritage (the Scottish equivalent of Natural England), had to introduce a zero tolerance campaign killing every hedgehog possible on the island, to prevent these released invasives from eating the eggs of the very special ground nesting bird population on South Uist including Corncrake, Dunlins, Red Shanks, Lapwings and Snipe – all species which are protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

It is estimated that the UK badger population was about fifty thousand animals in 1980 and that population is now estimated to be around about nine hundred thousand.  That figure whilst an estimate is viewed as probably being conservative, but is based on the located number of setts multiplied by the average number of badgers which each sett is likely to have.  A population of nine hundred thousand badgers is certainly three times greater than it was in 1992 when the Protection of Badgers Act came into force.  Interestingly, the badger has a greater protection status than any other mammal in the UK – far greater than for instance the otter or even the red squirrel.  Why?

It seems highly unlikely therefore that with a hedgehog population that was probably around 30 million 50 years ago and is now down to 1.5 million, that the badgers who really do like to eat hedgehogs and will eat them whenever they come across them, would not have played a fairly significant part in the hedgehogs decline.

Another example of a massive change in the natural world, which accidentally or intentionally man has either caused or significantly contributed to.

It would be nice if for once, Natural England and others were prepared to tell the truth.

Mark Osborne - FRICS, FAAV, MBAE

Mark Osborne is founder and Managing Director of JM Osborne & Co. and has been a qualified Chartered Surveyor and Land Agent for over 30 years. He trained on two large traditional landed estates (Chatsworth and Castle Ashby), before s.. Read more.

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