Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Badger cull could see boom in foxes, stoats and weasels

Conservationists fear negative impact on ecosystem and call on the government to release cull data

Saturday 8 July 2017 22.01 BST Last modified on Saturday 8 July 2017 23.40 BST

It is one of the more neglected dimensions of the badger cull, but one that could reignite the controversy surrounding the attempt to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Conservationists have long claimed that eliminating badgers from certain areas is likely to trigger an increase in other predators, such as foxes, leading to serious consequences for species and habitats. But the government has refused to publish data showing what impact the cull is having on local ecosystems for fear that the results will be used by animal rights activists to identify the farmers and landowners carrying out the extermination.

Now, following a three-year battle, the Information Commissioner’s Office has told Natural England – the government’s adviser on the natural environment – to provide the analysis within weeks or risk ending up in the high court. The ruling will also have significant consequences for the other information that the body is withholding on the grounds of public safety, conservationists predict.

A recent report for the Welsh assembly suggested that removing badgers would see numbers of other predators – such as foxes, stoats and weasels – increase, something that could have a negative impact on ground-nesting birds, notably the chough, a member of the crow family. Research sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and published in 2007 suggested that “badger culling … is likely to result in markedly higher fox densities. This raises issues relating to the costs of predation on livestock and game, the ecological impact of foxes in conservation terms as predators of ground-nesting birds and hares, and risks to public health as potential vectors of rabies”.

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