1. In response to reported increases in badger numbers and associated agricultural damage, a questionnaire survey of 3600 land owner/occupiers was conducted in 1997 to determine the extent and significance of badger damage in England and Wales. We assess the significance of badger-induced damage and highlight problem regions, farm types and specific crops to allow targeting of future research efforts at amelioration. (This survey investigated alleged badger damage to agriculture but did not address the role of badgers in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis.)
2. The return rate of the questionnaire was 55·1% (n = 1982) and 150 of the responses were ground-truthed.
3. Almost 30% of those land owner/occupiers who responded reported that badger damage had occurred in the previous 12 months, and 57% reported an increase in damage during the past 5 years.
4. Badger damage was widespread, but its incidence was highly dependent on region and farm type. The most frequently reported damage (25·5%) resulted from badgers’ burrowing activities (especially those causing damage to fences). Crop damage was also frequently reported (21·2%), with wheat, forage maize and vines being damaged most frequently.
5. Ground-truthing showed that incorrect attribution to badgers of damage was negligible and that the majority of respondents had assessed correctly the extent and cost of badger damage, except for predation on livestock where most ‘evidence’ was circumstantial.
6. Most reported damage was of little economic consequence to individual land owners/occupiers; however, approximately 5% estimated that they had incurred costs of over £1000.
7. Assuming that the questionnaires returned were a random subset of those distributed, the mean estimated national cost was £41·5 million per annum (62% of which was due to burrowing activity). Assuming that all the non-respondents had no damage, the estimate was £21·5 million per annum.
8. Future research into management options for damage limitation should be targeted at the areas and situations of most significant damage. These are primarily burrowing damage and direct crop damage to wheat, maize, vines, fruit and vegetables. The region suffering the most intense damage was the south-west of England. The highly seasonal nature of the damage to some crops will allow preventative action to be taken at the most appropriate times. Predation by badgers on livestock is considered a small-scale and unproven problem.