The hedgehog is a priority species. As such, it is protected under the terrestrial biodiversity group, but fundamentally we rely on the countryside stewardship scheme to protect the habitat on which this iconic relative of the shrew depends.
What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the damage that badgers do to hedgehogs? Will he join my campaign to try and protect the hedgehog?
Badgers have been identified as one of a range of factors that can have an impact on the hedgehog population which, as Members will know, has declined from about 30 million to about 1.5 million over the past 50 years. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on hedgehogs and to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
I hope the Minister is aware that there is some black propaganda being put around about badgers and hedgehogs. In respect of the badger cull, I have always believed that we should use science and good research methods to find out what is going on. There has been a dramatic fall in the population of a much-loved species which is very important to our countryside. May we have the science on this, not some black propaganda blaming badgers?
A national hedgehog survey is currently being conducted, looking at exactly this issue. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, in relation to hedgehogs badgers are not a black-and-white issue.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and he will know from the exchanges so far that the range of four-footed animals to which reference can legitimately be made in this question has now been expanded, albeit only by one.
It is a pretty miserable life being a hedgehog—they are covered in fleas, they are asleep for most of the year, when they do wake up, they are splattered on the road, and they are the favourite food of badgers. Will the Minister use his good offices with the hedgehog society and its national survey to ensure that alongside the badger cull there is a detailed survey of the impact of the increase in the hedgehog population in those parts of the country where badgers are being culled?
This is a scientific issue that is the responsibility of Natural England. We will look very carefully at the conclusions of the national hedgehog survey.