Do badgers eat hedgehogs? Yes, they do.

Badgers are the UK’s only predator species equipped to deal with all those prickles. A badger has five long claws on each of its forefeet, intended for digging but also very useful when it comes to turning over and disembowelling a hedgehog. The badger then scoops out and eats the soft insides of the poor hog, leaving the empty skin and spines like the rind of an exotic fruit.

Next question: are our hedgehogs vanishing from the countryside because the growing badger population is preying on them? There are loud and heartfelt arguments on both sides, a lot of misinformation and disinformation, and some very partisan interpretation of what little evidence there is. But, while the badger fan club votes one way and the hedgehog-ologists vote the other, nobody in the disinterested middle ground seems to be very sure.

Twenty years ago, Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) ordered up research into the effect of badger culling* on hedgehog populations.

A well designed survey found that in village ‘amenity grassland‘, presumably the mown grass of parks, football pitches and lawns, the number of hedgehogs doubled when badgers were culled. The reason for this is not as clear as the figures might suggest at first glance.

When two species share an omnivorous diet in a shared territory, falling numbers of one of those species will lead to a rise in the numbers of the other: fewer badgers mean more slugs and snails for the hedgehogs. Also, a prey species will avoid places where it might run into a predator; if badgers are removed from the village cricket ground, hedgehogs will move in.

Predation might well be a factor, the removal of a top predator always brings changes to an ecosystem, but there was nothing in the study’s findings to indicate how significant a factor it could be. The conclusion, filled with ifs and provisos, was that badgers ‘may act to constrain‘ hedgehogs. In other words, while more badgers in a locality means fewer hedgehogs, that does not necessarily mean that it is because the badgers are eating the hedgehogs.

The interaction of these two native species, both omnivores, both predators, in a single landscape is just too complex for an exercise in counting to unravel.

*Badgers carry Bovine TB and culling was an attempt ( proved unsuccessful in 2021) to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle.

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