Are badgers to blame for the decline in hedgehogs?
A position statement by BHPS and PTES
Several studies have demonstrated that badgers will kill hedgehogs, but they also eat many of the same prey items (especially worms). The same food cannot be eaten twice. Badgers are both a predator and a species competing for food.
The two species have coexisted in Britain for several thousand years and, whilst it is likely that where badger numbers are high the number of hedgehogs will be low, to identify badgers as the single most important factor affecting hedgehogs today is a mistake when there are more pressing issues like habitat loss. We know that when the habitat is rich with nesting and feeding sites, the species are able to coexist.
Hedgehogs are declining severely even in parts of the country with low badger densities (e.g. East Anglia). It is clear that several interacting pressures are at work. Bolstering hedgehog populations would be better achieved by increasing and improving habitat that supports both species – for example: restoring hedgerows to improve shelter and nesting opportunities; managing field margins and grasslands in ways that encourage abundance and diversity of invertebrates.
What about the badger cull?
The recent controversy regarding culling of badgers concerns the vexed question of how to control bovine TB in cattle and badgers. Since badgers represent a threat to hedgehogs, see above, British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) has been urged to support badger culls as being potentially beneficial to hedgehogs.
None of the scientific evidence supports the idea that culling badgers is an effective means of controlling bovine TB in the field. Recent pilot culls (2013, 2014) failed to kill sufficient animals for the cull to have been effective (despite extending the length of the trial) and raised doubts about the humaneness of the method. Given this, BHPS and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) join leading wildlife scientists in arguing against a cull of badgers to control bovine TB. 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.
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 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.