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A badger struggles to avoid drowning in the flooded river Saale, 2011. Photo: Margrit via Flickr.com.
A badger struggles to avoid drowning in the flooded river Saale, 2011. Photo: Margrit via Flickr.com.
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Cull could put flood-struck badgers 'at risk of local extinction'

The Ecologist

2nd June 2014

Following last winter's severe flooding in SW England, the Government has refused to assess how badly badgers suffered - even though local populations could have crashed. If the cull goes ahead, badgers could be wiped out of some areas altogether.

Many badger setts will have been engulfed by water, and cubs will have been at risk of drowning. Some of the badgers who survived the culls will undoubtedly have perished.

The Government is refusing to assess how badly badger populations in Somerset and Gloucestershire were affected by the severe flooding that hit Britain in February, says Humane Society International/UK.

And that means, says HSI, that it is "failing to comply with its own badger cull policy commitments" to prevent any risk of local badger extinctions.

The group is calling for the culls to be postponed until an independent local badger population survey has been conducted in both areas.

It's down in black and white

According to the Government's badger control policy (par 5.36), it is committed to ‘prevent local disappearance of badger populations', and in RFI 5834 DEFRA states that "Any signs of localized extinction will be acted on, for example by withdrawing local areas from cull zones".

However, in a letter to Mark Jones, HSI UK's executive director, Farming Minister George Eustice said the Government "would not require a further assessment of the badger population in those areas" -  despite the fact that flooding in both cull zones will likely have had an impact on badgers.

There were several reported incidents locally of badgers being rescued from drowning or badger carcasses being washed up in the floods. Many more could have drowned unseen underground in their setts while hibernating.

In February, four badgers were stranded in the flooded Somerset Levels, only two of whom could be rescued. A volunteer from Secret World Wildlife Rescue saved Storm and Noah - both exhausted, frozen and starving - using a boat. The other two badgers swam away, feared drowned.  

Reported badger drownings 'the tip of the iceberg'

Mark Jones said: "Both Somerset and Gloucestershire were badly affected by adverse weather conditions including severe flooding and freezing temperatures only weeks after badgers in these areas had already endured shooting during the government's culls.

"Many badger setts will have been engulfed by water, and cubs will have been at risk of drowning. Some of the badgers who survived the culls will undoubtedly have perished.

"We know that the bodies of drowned badgers were reported, including by farmers, and a few lucky but exhausted badgers were rescued. We fear these few may have been the tip of the iceberg. It's quite possible that hundreds of badgers in a local area could have died."

DEFRA - 'no evidence' of harm

According to George Eustice, writing in a letter to HSI, "there is currently no evidence that the national badger population has been significantly affected by the recent flooding."

However HSI UK maintains that the impact on the national badger population is irrelevant, because in order to be compliant with its own policy and stated commitments, DEFRA must establish any significant impact on the local population. 

"It would be irresponsible of DEFRA to allow further culling to take place without first carrying out thorough surveys in the cull zones to assess the combined impacts of badger culling and adverse weather on badger numbers", says Jones.

"We are urging DEFRA to comply with its own policy and postpone the cull while it at least establishes how many of these poor creatures there are left."

 

 

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