Damage by badgers Meles meles to wheat Triticum vulgare and barley Hordeum sativum crops.
During 1986 and 1987, 15 wheat and 15 barley fields were surveyed for damage caused by badgers, in an area in the south of England where badger density was moderately high (7.5 adults km-2). In the case of wheat, actual grain losses were estimated after harvest by comparing the number of unharvested spikes remaining in badger-damaged and undamaged areas. Direct observations of 11 radio-collared badgers from 4 neighbouring social groups were carried out in order to determine how and when crops were damaged. Badgers damaged cereal crops by making paths through them and by flattening patches of crops while feeding on them. Paths and patches were more numerous in wheat than in barley; patches were larger in wheat; badgers commenced feeding on wheat earlier in the season; and feeding bouts were longer in wheat. Of 11 radio-collared badgers which had access to crops, all fed on wheat but only 5 fed on barley. It is concluded that badgers prefer wheat to barley when both are available. Overall, 0.25% of the crop by area was damaged in the case of wheat and 0.05% in the case of barley. Average grain losses for wheat amounted to 7.21 kg/ha, or <0.1% of the total crop. Damage was not severe enough to make deterrence, for example by electric fencing, cost-effective. Consumption of standing wheat began in early May, after which the time that badgers spent in wheat fields increased until September. Members of any one social group of badgers restricted their foraging to a few specific areas within the cereal fields available to them and these areas were usually close to field edges. After the harvest, individuals ranged more widely and foraged independently of one another, gleaning spilled grain from stubble fields. In winter and early spring, wheat was taken from barns and grain stores.