Wildlife conservationists have criticised a leading national newspaper for suggesting that culling badgers is necessary to protect hedgehogs.
The Badger Trust said The Times had launched “a cynical, politically motivated attack” after an editorial suggested that reducing badger numbers would be one way to revive Britain’s declining hedgehog population.
Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer welcomed the newspaper’s decision to include the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) as one of its featured Christmas charities, but said it was trying to exploit the public’s goodwill by “falsely claiming” hedgehog numbers would recover if badgers were culled.
“The Times is yet again supporting the Government’s cull policy but this time is widening the ‘badger blame game’ to include hedgehogs,” he added.
The BHPS does not believe that badgers are responsible for the hedgehog’s demise. In a report released earlier this month, it said that there was no indication that badgers are causing the decrease in hedgehog numbers.
“Badgers do compete for the same foods as hedgehogs (one badger eats enough to support five hedgehogs) and will also kill and eat hedgehogs,” the BHPS said.
“But environmental factors frame their relationship and may be more important in causing the decline than direct predation. The downward hedgehog trend is the same whether badgers are present or not.”
It is far more likely that hedgehogs are being impacted by the lack of good quality habitat in arable farmland, with a dearth of both foraging and nesting sites, the BHPS added.
In its editorial, The Times said: “An acceptance of the need to limit the proliferation of the badger, which is in any case spreading bovine tuberculosis among cattle, should form part the [hedgehog] preservation strategy.”
But many conservation groups – including the BHPS – question whether badger culling is the right way to address bTB, because much of the science suggests it will have little impact or could even make the situation worse.