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.”
Cattle and sheep prices rise
HISTORICALLY high market prices for cattle and sheep are helping to push Wales’ agricultural sector into the black, according to market analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).
Welsh Government projections, released as part of its ‘Aggregate agricultural output and income’ and ‘Forecast of farm incomes in Wales’ statistical reports, show that agriculture is now worth almost £1.6 billion to the Welsh economy.
Beef and sheep farming – along with the dairy sector – are by far the largest contributors to this value, with the PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef brands helping to secure millions in sales in the UK and export markets.
According to HCC, strong cattle and sheep prices at market are continuing to help sustain profitability, although the weather has had an impact.
“Market prices for June have continued the trend we’ve seen since the beginning of the year,” said HCC’s Data Analyst Glesni Phillips. “Poor weather in early spring is restricting the number of new season lambs coming on to the market, which has contributed to prices remaining around 10p per kilo higher than last year. Beef cattle prices are also strong, helped by a barbecue boom in the warm month of May.”
However, Glesni noted that average farm incomes were still modest, and that uncertainty over access to vital European markets after Brexit meant that forecasting future price movements was unusually difficult.
“According to Welsh Government figures, average incomes on a beef and sheep enterprise in the Less Favoured Area (LFA – which makes up over 80% of Wales’s agricultural land) are only just over £25,000,” she said. “Given that market prices are unlikely to remain at this level, and that considerable political uncertainty exists over possible levels of exports and imports of red meat, this highlights the need for agricultural businesses to prioritise on-farm efficiency as part of their Brexit preparations.”
TFA calls for Inheritance Tax changes
THE TENANT FARMERS ASSOCIATION (TFA) has called for a radical change in the operation of Agricultural Property Relief (APR) in its response to the call for evidence issued by the Office for Tax Simplification for its Inheritance Tax review.
TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “For many rural landlords the taxation framework within which they operate has a major influence over the decisions they make about how they manage their land. The TFA believes that the Government should be using this sensitivity as leverage to achieve wider objectives for the resilience and sustainability of the tenanted sector of agriculture”.
The introduction of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 represented a major deregulation of the agricultural let sector. Farm Business Tenancies (FBTs) were ushered in with the intention of improved efficiency of land use, whilst increasing opportunities for both progressing farmers and new entrants within the agricultural sector.
“Over two decades on and the TFA believes that neither of these objectives have been attained. Whilst we saw an increase in the amount of let land through the early years of the new legislation this has, by and large, tailed off. However, the biggest failing has been the perpetuation of short lengths of term leading to inefficiency. Short term tenancies are holding back progression, investment and sustainable land use. FBTs have been too short for too long and now is the time for that to change,” said Mr Dunn.
A big advantage to the taxpaying landlord is the ability to have 100% APR from Inheritance Tax for the agricultural value of their holdings let after the 01 September 1995. However, the TFA questions whether this relief should be so widely available. In circumstances where landlords choose to let for short lengths of term, there is little in the national interest to be gained from providing landlords with such a generous tax advantage.
“There needs to be a radical reform of the Inheritance Tax framework for agricultural land as it applies to landlords. Allowing for exemptions for specialist cropping lets on a rotational basis, APR should be abolished except in relation to land let for 10 years or more without a landlord’s break clause,” said Mr Dunn.
“Using changes in APR to improve the average length of term on FBTs will impact positively on the productivity, resilience and sustainability of the tenanted sector of agriculture, which is now responsible for farming around a third of the agricultural area of the country,” said Mr Dunn
Royal Welsh to be blooming great
THE ROYAL WELSH AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY has announced it will be holding ‘The Great Royal Welsh Bloom Off’ competition during the main show on July 23-26.
Have you got a wedding coming up? This would be the perfect opportunity to learn how to arrange wedding flowers and win a wedding bouquet designed and arranged by renowned, award winning florist, Jonathan Lloyd-Davies.
Designed and sponsored by Johnathan of Johnathan’s Flowers, the competition, taking place in the Horticulture Marquee on the Tuesday (Jul 24) of the show, is open to anyone who has not previously competed in the floral art section of the Royal Welsh Show or Winter Fair, and who is interested in learning how to arrange flowers for an upcoming wedding.
Competitors do not need any previous experience (No NAFAS members), there will be no entry fee and all materials will be provided. But hurry, entries must be made in advance as spaces are limited.
The competition will follow the lines of the popular ‘Great British Bake Off’ programme, with contestants, in this instance, first taught to delicately arrange wedding style button holes, with the successful competitors proceeding to the next round to create a beautiful bridal bouquet under Johnathan’s watchful eye.
Jonathan established his business, Jonathan’s Flowers (www.jonathansflowers.co.uk), back in 1993 and has since gone on to provide an inspirational and personal florist service to South Wales and beyond. Specialising in floral designs to weddings and corporate clients, Johnathan has an impressive list of happy clients, including Catherine Zeta Jones, Bonnie Tyler, leading hotels in both Cardiff and Swansea, Glorious Goodwood, Royal Ascot and Wentworth Golf Club, to name just a few.
This exciting competition is just one of the many floral extravaganzas you will find in the Horticulture Marquee at the Royal Welsh Show. Packed full of fruits, vegetables, floral art displays, cut flowers, pot plants, window boxes and planters, a children’s decorated wheelbarrow competition, demonstrations, gardening question time, and the Welsh National Honey Show, amongst other delights… it really is worth a visit!
For more details and entry forms for ‘The Great Royal Welsh Bloom Off’, please contact: 01982 554409 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The pinnacle event in the British agricultural calendar, the Royal Welsh Show, will be held on July 23 – 26 at the showground in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells.
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