After a recent article in the Times about how the badger cull benefits hedgehogs, hedgehog expert Hugh Warwick has responded with the argument that things are not that simple. I agree.
Hugh points out that badgers and hedgehogs both prey on macro-invertebrates such as earthworms and if earthworms are plentiful badgers have no need to prey on hedgehogs, a much more difficult food item to tackle. Macro-invertebrates are lacking on farmland due to modern day intensification, of course implemented by humans not badgers. To add to this, there is a substantial lack of cover on farmland. Post-war hedgerow removal has left few places for hedgehogs to hide from badgers.
We must not forget that naturally, as in all predator-prey relationships, there will be cycles where one is on the increase and one is on the decline. Finally, hedgehogs are also declining in urban areas, albeit less severely, where badgers are not present. The blame for the urban hedgehog decline is placed on slug pellets, road traffic and enclosed gardens; all human factors.
In an article titled 'Hedgehogs thrive after badger culls' The Times has today highlighted a paper just published in the journal Plos One which reveals, for the first time, that removing badgers from an area can cause an apparent increase in the number of hedgehogs. So what's the truth? Should we really be culling badgers to save our hedgehogs? Well, the simple answer is ... it's complicated - but no, we should not.