A NEW study by NatureScot claims that foxes are a much bigger threat to lambs than badgers.

In response to growing concerns about badgers potentially killing and eating lambs, a study was carried out by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) in partnership with NatureScot, NFUS and SLaE.

However, the investigation failed to provide evidence of widespread badger attacks on lambs.

Some 27 farms across Scotland volunteered to take part in research to gather evidence with participants having previously suspected badger predation on their farms.

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Post-mortems were carried out on 29 carcases to determine whether lambs had been killed and eaten or were scavenged with 48% of lambs victim to predation and 31% to scavengers.

Fox DNA was present on 34 of the 39 lambs sampled (87%), including all the lambs that showed evidence of predation.

Meanwhile, badger DNA was detected on the partial remains of two lambs (5%), but not on any of the carcases submitted for post-mortem, or where predation was confirmed. Dog DNA was also present on 12 (31%) lambs. However, the study suggested this was likely because of direct or indirect contact with farm dogs.

Wildlife biologist at SASA, Sheila George, said: “Livestock predation can be particularly distressing for farmers but identifying the predator from field signs can be challenging. Combining post-mortem and DNA evidence, we found that puncture wounds around the head, neck and throat, and associated bleeding, were a good indicator that fox predation had occurred.

“Despite the abundance of badgers on the study farms, we did not find DNA evidence that they killed lambs or regularly scavenged carcases. The findings should help inform livestock managers and their predator control plans.”

Peter Douglas from NFU Scotland said: “Losing lambs to predators and having adequate control measures in place to deal with predation is important to Scottish sheep farmers and crofters to minimise losses.”

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NSA Scottish region coordinator, Grace Reid, added: “In a survey carried out by NSA Scotland in 2023, it found that 85% of all respondents have seen an increase in predation attacks over the last three years with less or no control of predators being seen as the main reason for an increase in attacks.

“While predation can be seen seasonally, it is imperative that predator control continues to be a key part of conservation and wildlife management throughout the year. It comes as no surprise that foxes have been named the most likely predator.

“However, it is worthwhile remembering that there are many other culprits and when all are combined, they can cause serious damage to the viability of a flock. With the concern of future species reintroductions, the sheep industry continues to remain vigilant to ensure the health and welfare of our sheep.”