Poor Little Hedgehog?

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Forgive the question in the title, but I saw this rather twee and pathetic plea on my Twitter feed this evening. It just about sums up the witlessness and hypocrisy prevalent amongst armchair ‘wildlife worshippers’. The ignorance and arrogance of the modern human being makes me almost ashamed to belong to the species. Reading this plea, one could imagine dozens of hedgehogs rolling around on their backs gasping for water and shrivelling up into small spiny ectomorphs because (shock, horror!) we’ve had a bit of sunshine. For Christs sake! Those who really understand nature know that creatures adapt to the conditions … whether extreme heat or bitter cold. That’s how they’ve survived the millennia. Some species have survived even better than we have. The poor soul that re-posted this ridiculous statement from the RSPCA might want to remind this abomination of a ‘charity’ that hedgehogs are nocturnal. They draw moisture from the slugs, earthworms and other juicy morsels they consume on their wanderings. They can lick the dew from the night-time grass. In fact, current conditions (which spawn innumerable insects) are ideal for hedgehogs and other creatures that exist primarily on invertebrates.

There is a far bigger threat to the hedgehog which the RSPCA is conveniently ignoring. Persistently. Put your bowl of water out tonight, by all means. If you’ve got a big heart and a deep pocket leave out a bowl of milk. Few RSPCA members have that deep pocket, but still waste their hard-earned money on an organisation hell-bent on persecution of humans rather than protection of animals. Now watch Mrs Tiggywinkle as she sups on your provenance. Perhaps watch the huge boar badger that lumbers up behind her, flips her over onto her back and … before she can curl into a ball … uses his powerful claws to rip her open through her soft underbelly and eat her alive. Because that’s what badgers do. Very effectively. Shocked? Good. You should be. Don’t get me wrong … I love badgers too. They are an iconic British species but their over-protection has now impacted on a creature in serious decline.

And trust me … a genuine nature-lover and countryman. The survival of our handsome little “furze-pigs” doesn’t depend on your bowl of water tonight. It depends on conservation management in ‘badger-free’ zones. What is being allowed to happen to the hedgehog is exactly the same as we’ve seen happen to the red squirrel. A misguided reluctance to control one population to save another due to an ill-conceived notion that any reduction cull is ‘cruel’. Killing isn’t cruel. Standing by and watching a species suffer what we (as humans) would call genocide is unforgivably cruel when we have the power and intelligence to reverse the process.

We’ve done it for humans. We’re trying to do it for red squirrels, in parts of the country. Why can’t we do it for hedgehogs?

Copyright: Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2017

Vandals and Vindication

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Badger skull

Culling squirrels last weekend on a Norfolk estate I couldn’t help but despair at the amount of destruction being carried out, unchecked, among the woods and coverts when no-one is around to protect the land. The hooliganism has reached a massive scale and always happens at night. Nor is it localised. The reprobates have spread right across the thousand acre manor. Tree guards have ripped away and newly planted saplings torn out by their roots. Mature oaks, beech and ash have been undermined and unbalanced … toppling under the pressure of winter gales. The vandals make no attempt to hide their activity, in fact quite the opposite. Long trails wind hither and thither across the woodland floor, flattening the snowdrops. Follow these trails and you will find small pits full of excrement. Latrines. Have these offenders no shame? All along the runs you can see where they’ve dug and delved, expertly snouting out grubs and earthworms and retrieving them with their powerful, clawed paws. Oh … you’ve figured it out now? Badgers. Dozens of them. In fact, so many setts exist here that I fear the whole estate might disappear into a huge hollow one day.

The badger has been in the news a lot over the past year, the DEFRA approved badger cull causing the usual division of sentiment between those who really understand wildlife and those who purport to, but actually don’t. Decisions around wildlife management would be doomed to constant failure if they were based on emotion instead of practical, scientific consideration. Don’t get me wrong, I love badgers as much as I love all wildlife, but un-natural interference with Nature by man (in the form of ‘law’) can cause as much imbalance as the inexcusable and random pogroms carried out by Edwardian and Victorian hunters when firearms first became accessible in the UK. In an attempt at defending the Wildlife Acts at least we can say they curbed the awful practises of badger baiting, cock fighting and other unacceptable sporting activities. Yet you only have to walk the woods I do and look at the road-kill badger corpses lining our roads and motorways to see that (like the fox) this handsome, nocturnal mustelid is breeding beyond healthy and sustainable numbers. Putting aside TB or the threats to that other declining native mammal, the hedgehog, it can’t be good for the species meles meles to over-populate to this extent. Competition for territory, food and mates is always balanced by Natures intervention. Sometimes in an environment devoid of natural alpha predators, as with deer, that intervention needs to be by the ultimate predator. Man.

DEFRA have tried to cull badgers, to protect cattle herds. It has been marginally successful in the areas targeted. Most countrymen or women would find it hard to point a rifle at a badger. I mean emotionally … not just because it’s dark. Sometimes we should accept that the old ways were the best ways. Gassing over-populated setts was always effective many years ago. Yes, there is a risk to other species squatting in a badger sett but that really is unlikely given the omnivorous diet of Old Brock. And let’s be clear here. Elimination is not an option. The badger is an iconic British animal, like the red squirrel. Now there’s a rub? The same people who would stop a grey squirrel cull and ignore the dire plight of the native red squirrel are the same misinformed individuals who campaign against badger culling to stop cattle infection. They don’t realise that Nature dictates which species should gain or lose to balance her accounts. Nor do they understand that we, mankind, have the mandate to oversee that or we wouldn’t have adapted so strongly? Sure, we’ve abused it in the past but now mankind has a pretty level view on species management. We beat ourselves up daily, challenge old conventions, fight illegitimate practises like poaching or exploitation of animals and we constantly set new standards. The responsibility for wildlife management lies firmly at our feet.

While looking over the setts, the inhabitants slumbering beneath my feet, I chanced across an old skull dragged up from the depths by another recent excavation. A large skull, probably a boar. Did he die of old age? Or was he gassed as he slept peacefully many years ago? We will never know.

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2015