30 July 2016
A Viscountess has blamed badgers for the slaughter of 200 lambs on her family’s estate, as she called for a widespread cull of the animals.
Helene, Viscountess Scarsdale, a formidable aristocrat, said the lambs had been killed in three years, while also accusing the National Trust, which now owns historic Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, of allowing the badgers to “wreak havoc”.
She said 500 acres of “beautiful” parkland at Kedleston, which has been in the family for almost 1,000 years, had been allowed to turn into “thistles and nettles” by the trust, which in turn had let badgers thrive.
The National Trust took over Kedleston about 30 years ago. Their son, the fourth Viscount Scarsdale, lives in a wing of the stately home. She said she had been horrified by what she believes is the killing of lambs owned by a tenant farmer.
Badgers, she says, have also killed hedgehogs and bees in her grounds. Farmers have been demanding a cull of badgers, blaming them for the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
Badgers are protected but pilot culls are in place in Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Lady Scarsdale, 81, told The Telegraph: “In just three or four years, 200 lambs have been killed by badgers. They leave such a mess in the fields. They shred their victims immediately. Badgers are far worse than foxes. They eat everything.
“They have these claws and teeth that lock on. All they leave behind is the spine and skull.
“We need to get rid of the badgers. I would like a machine gun. I said to friends, ‘Would you visit me in prison?’ and they said, ‘Well, that’s where you will be’.”
Lady Scarsdale launched her assault on badgers and the National Trust in an open letter in Country Life.
She wrote: “This part of Derbyshire is suffering badly, and soon there will be no creatures great or small left in this beautiful park, which is fast being covered in thistles and nettles.”
She concluded: “I wonder if the trust would be brave enough to tell visiting children what happens to lambs, hedgehogs and fledglings here at Kedleston?
However, Professor Rosie Woodroffe, Britain’s leading badger expert and a senior research fellow with the Institute of Zoology, suggested that badger attacks on lambs of this scale are unlikely.
Prof Woodroffe said: “It is not inconceivable, but it would be very unusual for badgers to kill that many lambs. It would be a lot for badgers to eat.”
She said it would be more likely that the dead lambs were stillborn and that badgers had scavenged the carcasses.
“I would not say she [Lady Scarsdale] is definitely, definitely wrong, but I would be looking at whether this is scavenging of lambs that are already dead. Badgers are not good hunters; they are not agile animals,” Prof Woodroffe added.
She said badgers’ main diet was earthworms and they would eat hundreds in a night’s feeding. The National Trust said it would be happy to meet Lady Scarsdale.
A spokesman said: “In rare circumstances a badger might attack a particularly weak, isolated or ill lamb.
“We monitor and track badger populations. We are not aware of any evidence that this is an issue at Kedleston.
“If Lady Scarsdale would like to speak with the local team, we’d be very happy to discuss what can be done to ensure the sheep and the badgers – a protected species under UK law – can happily coexist.”
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