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WILL Environment Minister Michael Gove’s legacy to the nation, when the Tories are eventually thrown out of office, be the total elimination of our favourite wild animal?
We are talking about the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), which was crowned Britain’s national species in a BBC Wildlife magazine poll and Britain’s favourite mammal in another poll by the Royal Society of Biology. Will it become extinct on Gove’s watch?
In the early part of the last century, hedgehogs were really common throughout Britain, with an estimated population of perhaps 30 million in the 1950s.
Today numbers are down to under a million and dropping all the time. Increased use of pesticides and insecticides, tidier gardens and road traffic accidents have all contributed to this massive decline.
Now the poor old hedgehog has another threat and this one comes from Gove and his Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
It recently approved the use of a small animal trap from New Zealand that is designed to catch and kill rats, stoats and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are a thriving non-native species in New Zealand, where they are considered a real pest.
Following Gove’s department’s approval, the traps can now be used in Britain despite the fact that hedgehogs are a protected species — listed on schedule six of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
In Britain, hedgehogs may not be trapped without a licence. This means that, if a trap is set albeit intended for something else and it catches a hedgehog, then the person who set the trap can be prosecuted.
Anyone setting traps for any kind of vermin or non-protected species is obliged to take all reasonable precautions to avoid catching a protected species.
With a trap specifically designed to catch hedgehogs it is hard to see what would constitute reasonable precautions. It is no defence in law to say that the catch was unintentional.
The new traps sell for £122 and an extra 20 quid buys a trap that actually counts the number of dead bodies. For British buyers of the trap, a hedgehog excluder tunnel is available but it will set you back another fiver. This tunnel is clearly a hasty afterthought made from chicken wire, which British hedgehog experts believe will itself trap hedgehogs.
Online sites in Britain, including Amazon, offer the new trap for sale but none even mentions the tunnel that avoids killing hedgehogs. One British supplier does have a picture of the tunnel, but its website doesn’t mention what it is for.
The tunnel is supposed to stop hedgehogs putting their head fully into the trap seeking out the attractive lure. However, when it tries to reverse back out its spines will catch on the wire.
Some time ago, hedgehogs were getting accidentally caught in McDonald’s McFlurry and KFC Krushems cups. Public pressure managed to get both fast food giants to change their packaging to prevent this from happening.
In November 2017, The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) wrote to GoodNature UK, distributors of the new trap.
BHPS offered to help develop a more effective tunnel and suggested that, once a suitable tunnel had been designed, it should be fitted as standard. To date the BHPS has heard nothing.
The BHPA is calling for public pressure to ban these traps and you can help. You can write to Gove or his junior minister Dr Therese Coffey demanding Defra withdraws its approval of these traps immediately so that they are not able to impact upon our already dwindling hedgehog population.
The A24 trap is available for anyone to buy in shops or online. It attracts animals, using a chocolate lure, before delivering a powerful blow to a creature’s head or neck, killing them instantly every time — if the maker’s claims are to be believed.
These traps are powered by a CO2 canister and can be left unattended for months. They can kill and expel the corpses of up to two dozen animals before needing a new CO2 canister.
Obviously, the traps are not being marketed to kill hedgehogs here in Britain, but they will certainly kill hedgehogs here.
Defra says it has no plans to ban the new trap but that, “so far as is practicable,” it must be “used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing” hedgehogs, including by installing a specially designed wire tunnel intended to stop the animals reaching the trap.
In reality and in the field nobody will be policing Defra’s advice and many hedgehogs will be killed.
BHPS chief executive Fay Vass reiterated that the tunnel, which is sold separately, was “hastily developed and badly designed.”
If we must have these traps for rats, Gove needs to halt their sales until they’ve been carefully assessed by experts who actually understand hedgehog biology.
In an official statement Defra told us: “We are confident that hedgehogs can be effectively excluded from the trap when set according to manufacturer’s instructions and an excluder tunnel is used. We do not, therefore, intend to remove this trap’s approval.”
An online petition to ban the horrific A24 trap was launched back in 2017 when the trap was first imported from New Zealand.
It reached nearly 30,000 signatures in six weeks but was closed early in May 2017 due to the snap election and parliament being dissolved. The signatures cannot be rolled over so the petition has had to be started again from scratch.
Now the petition is running again and has already passed the 30,000 figure and aiming to reach 100,000 signatures by the June 1 2018 to trigger a debate in Parliament and have the Defra approval withdrawn.
Even if you signed last year’s petition, you need to sign again: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206274
You can write Michael Gove or his junior minister Dr Therese Coffey at Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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