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Habitat is key to loss of animals

Readers' letters | Published:

In response to Mr Searby of Nesscliffe, it’s curious to complain that Ms Curtis knows little about badger ecology when he appears to think they ‘graze’. They don’t.

The vast majority of their diet is made up of worms and other invertebrates, supplemented by roots, fruit, and carrion. They are lucky if they can add much else more than occasionally.

Soft woodland or pasture ground particularly after heavy rain is ideal for worms, hence the presence of all worm eaters, including badgers. While I imagine careless cyclists might risk running into a badger, badgers don’t wait in the verges ready to leap out at the unsuspecting.

Nor are they the cause of the dramatic decline in ground nesting birds, that’s down to loss of habitat, in the case of the curlew and lapwing, the result of widespread drainage of land, silage cutting right in the middle of their nesting season, the enormous decline in insect numbers (loss of native food plants and persistent use of pesticides applied both to fields directly and indirectly through livestock treatments). If a landowner wanted to help protect curlews as some do, they could.

Habitat, habitat, habitat – providing good sward length, plenty of insects, keeping stock and machinery off nesting from April to late July.

Old farmers will tell you that as kids they went ahead of machinery to find and mark nests. Don’t see that much these days. Just mile upon mile of sterile, short grass, pretty much a desert. All courtesy of the tax payer.

Badgers aren’t responsible for the huge decline in hedgehogs either – to be a hedgehog you need dense habitat, plenty of nesting areas, insect and reptile rich feeding grounds, not miles of largely bare sticks surrounding green desert.

Where hedgehogs have declined most dramatically is where there are also very few badgers – the findings so far suggest that’s down to drier land (hard to excavate by small animals like hedgehogs who need bigger animals, like badgers, to start the digging), habitat areas which are much too small (they need the equivalent of six suburban gardens per animal to get enough food), low insect and worm numbers. Where they are going up, is in many gardens (including those in towns), and rewilded landscapes which provide all they, and badgers, need.

Nor do badgers or other meso-predators need human ‘control’: they were not prey items when we still had top predators, they were competitors for food, just as they are with one another now. Cubs will be taken by foxes, as fox cubs will be taken by adult badgers, that’s how their ecology works.

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Their breeding rate is regulated by the link between oestrus and food availability – they don’t breed if they don’t reach breeding condition. As ground nesting birds, hedgehogs and all manner of native species have co-existed in natural balance for millennia without interference, it’s a mistake to imagine humans need to assume any role in regulating their numbers now.

Rosie Wood, Bishop’s Castle

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