You may have noticed an article in the press about an “astounding” discovery: it concerned the huge reduction in the population of hedgehogs in the UK. It will certainly not have astounded country folk. A number of us have long been telling of how we have heard and seen these delightful little creatures either during or after their excruciating deaths by badgers. They are probably the only predator spikey hedgehogs have other than wheeled ones on our roads.

Badgers have long known how to uncurl a coiled hedgehog and disembowel it. Hearing this happening at night is actually quite a frightening and distressing experience, made worse by finding the pathetic remains the following morning. Little is left other than its spikey skin.

The way badgers have attacked the hedgehog population, decimating their numbers, has gone almost unnoticed by the “twittering” public until quite recently. Now it is only acknowledged with some reluctance because as all good conservationists know, it’s only man’s activities which damage the natural environment. Everything in the wild is beyond reproach.

Yet now, the hedgehog, once such a common and welcome inhabitant of gardens – even in built up areas – is a rare sight. Yet badgers were once also a rare, thrilling, if slightly amusing sight, shambling along in the twilight, or in the headlights of a car. Now they are everywhere, more often than not lying dead by the road.

I certainly know which species I would rather see and its certainly not the badger which, to a large extent, has contributed to many bankruptcies and suicides in the rural areas of the West Country, Wales and some parts of South East England. Yet it is still being championed by very ignorant and unaware townies who, in turn, have persuaded populist politicians (who cause potentially as much mayhem as the badgers) about the animal’s need for protection. In so doing the country has lost many thousands of cattle to tuberculosis, costing the exchequer millions in compensation while breaking the hearts of many farmers. People who have worked their lives with cattle see them being sacrificed because elements of the public are unwilling or unable to accept the damage badgers cause, including the loss of our hedgehog population.

I have never watched the TV series Game of Thrones but was interested to read recently of the connection between it and a rise in livestock worrying.

Apparently, huskies are the programme’s dog of choice. These big wolf like creatures – also made famous in films of the far north in Canada – have increasingly become a species of choice as pets in the UK, and show a predilection for attacking sheep and even cattle when visiting the countryside.

The NFU recently reported a big rise in dog attacks causing deaths and serious damage, mainly to sheep, with costs in excess of £1.4 million.

In an incident I witnessed and reported a couple of years ago, a group of in-calf heifers was stampeded around our home meadow by two totally uncontrollable white huskies. With no owner in attendance and the dogs working silently, it was purely by luck we spotted the action. They would not be deterred until I rushed back home and brought my gun to the scene.

By then a man, their walker, had arrived but he could exercise no control so it was decision time. The heifers were by now slowing down and there were a few bloodied hocks, so it was becoming serious. The cattle were now moving away and the two dogs were almost among them so, when I estimated both were far enough from me to feel no more than sharp pricks from the shots, I let off a barrel at each dog.

The effect was instantaneous: both jumped in the air with yelps and within a second were hightailing it to a distant housing estate. Peace was reestablished. The man gave me full details for passing to the police and the incident was out of my hands.

Non farmers may also think farmers overreact about TB but, unless you have been involved in testing or, worse still having reactors, it is a huge worry.

Our annual test was completed recently. They all had their unpopular (to the animal) two jabs in the neck, then they were run through for the vet to check. This is always a huge worry and stressful to all involved as to whether the test is negative or positive. All eyes are glued to the injection sites hoping for no reaction but this is not often the end result.

All animals’ skin reacts slightly but within an acceptable range, and pass while others, outside the acceptable range and known as inconclusives, are usually sent for slaughter or by agreement kept in isolation for 60 day retests. Both scenarios are pretty unsatisfactory because of the unreliability of the tests. To make us more nervous this time were rumours of yet another herd breakdown in the area although I then heard it was in a group of animals having had contact across a boundary fence with yet another group of these imported beef animals I wrote of last month. So, no surprise.
Friday came and testing got underway, everyone on tenterhooks with whole futures on the line. The Home Farm, where all the heifers are reared, sailed through as expected, before testing moved to the Downland dairy unit. This is always a concern with local wildlife and vehicles.

And so it turned out. Our hopes turned to ashes: 60 day tests again, unless laboratory tests possibly prove negative. So where has it come from? If it’s the source we suspect, DEFRA surely have to take firm and decisive action, or no dairymen in the area has any chance of staying clear of this scourge.

Not a good start to spring.