Letter: Destructive badgers

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The Independent Online
Sir: If there is doubt about badgers spreading bovine TB (report, 1 December; Letters, 6 December) there is no doubt about the massive damage that badgers are doing to gardens in Somerset.

Before the moratorium on culling was initiated in 1973 badger numbers were kept low by farmers and landowners. Then, freed from predation, badgers multiplied rapidly. They moved into my garden in 1990, taking fruit, vegetables and flower bulbs. They fouled the paths with dungpits and exterminated garden-friendly wildlife such as hedgehogs and slow-worms.

Across Somerset, 145 gardeners open their gardens to the public under the National Gardens Scheme. I questioned 54 of them: 81 per cent had a badger problem similar to mine and getting worse.

The survey by the People's Trust for Endangered Species interpreted the 77 per cent increase in the British badger population since 1988 as a "recovery" from low levels caused by gamekeepers in the 19th century. This is incorrect. Somerset parish accounts for the 17th and 18th centuries frequently itemise payments for the destruction of "vermin" (animals which robbed land-hungry peasants of their produce). Badgers were worth a shilling each, a fortune to a peasant.

Badger meat was always a delicacy, to man and in earlier centuries to wolves and other carnivores. So badgers never swarmed unmolested across England, and the current population increase is not a recovery.

It follows that badgers are commoner now than ever before. Conversely, farmers and gardeners have never been so powerless to resist their destructiveness.

Dr WILLIE STANTON

Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset

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