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Badgers are now as common in England?s countryside as foxes, according to the results of a survey revealed recently from the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), conducted as part of DEFRA?s background investigations prior to potential changes in Government policy towards management of the badger population.

The CSL?s survey, conducted in the spring of last year in separate areas of England, found badger densities in open pasture to be as high as 4.3 per sq km in Devon, ranging down to 1.5 per sq km in Herefordshire. The figures were broadly similar to populations of foxes in open pasture, though they were substantially higher than numbers of hares and deer. Significantly, the survey also investigated hedgehog populations and identified a correlation between high badger populations and low hedgehog numbers.

The results of the survey have increased pressure on DEFRA to authorise controlled culls of badgers to help tackle the transmission of bovine TB. Members of the farming community calling for controlled culls have been set against those who argue strongly that badgers are not responsible for transmission of the disease.

The National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) has been involved in the issue for several years ? last year the organisation responded to DEFRA?s consultation on the issue of badger control, specifically discussing management techniques. Back as far as 2003, however, the NGO wrote to DEFRA?s head of wildlife management, stating: Gamekeepers know that wildlife simply cannot tolerate current badger numbers without there being significant harm of some sort. These are big and powerful mammals, and current densities on some farmland of one adult to every four hectares must be having huge biological impacts. Some gamekeepers believe that badgers are responsible for the apparent decline of the hedgehog.