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Bad luck, bad planning or the protests – why did badger culls fall short?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 03, 2013

Anti-badger cull protesters at work in the pilot cull zone in Somerset.  Hunt saboteurs disrupted the culls –  the second of which was abandoned last week

Anti-badger cull protesters at work in the pilot cull zone in Somerset. Hunt saboteurs disrupted the culls – the second of which was abandoned last week

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When the Government announced it was abandoning the extended badger cull, hunt saboteurs were quick to claim the credit. Philip Bowern asks whether they really made the difference.

Even those who support the cull of badgers have found it difficult to find much satisfaction from the pilots held in Somerset and Gloucestershire, through the autumn.

Initially both culls got off to what farmers' representatives and the Government saw as promising starts, with precise targets set for the numbers to be killed within the six-week time-frames. But it was not long before the Western Morning News was able to reveal – from impeccable sources – that the targets were proving much harder than expected to achieve.

Since then, with ever more desperate measures, those behind the culls have sought to claw back some ground. In Somerset, after a three-week extension, some 65% of badgers were killed, still short of the 70% initially said to be required to bring about a reduction in bovine TB in cattle but a reasonable result in the circumstances.

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In Gloucestershire the extension was due to last for eight weeks – two weeks longer than the original cull. In the event it was abandoned last week having accounted for just 30% of badgers, with three weeks of the extension still to go.

In the Commons yesterday Defra insisted valuable lessons had been learned and that culling would still form a part of the battle against bovine TB. Ministers have set out a 25-year plan to eradicate the disease.

Yet there is no doubt that the hunt saboteurs believe they have made the vital difference, disrupting the cull teams, and keeping what has been an unpopular policy with the general public well up the news agenda. They are almost certainly right.

Privately some involved in the cull believe the police in Gloucestershire failed to do enough to support the teams going about their lawful business, implementing Government policy.

It is a charge the police reject; but there is no doubt that in both Somerset and Gloucestershire officers have been scrupulous to avoid allegations that they were offering particular help to the cull teams, inevitably leading to allegations about favouring the protesters.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association posted on its website: "This can never feel like a victory as far too many innocent animals have been murdered but it is a great testament to the wide variety of groups who have worked together that we have, for now, beaten the Government and the NFU."

The saboteurs insist they have not benefited from any 'soft' policing. "Whatever they have thrown at us – cage trapping, oppressive policing and illegal extensions we have taken in our stride and defeated. The Hunt Saboteurs Association has more than doubled its membership since the culls began and we have had a huge upsurge of interest in those wishing to join our local groups," they write.

Those backing the cull vehemently deny suggestions it has been a shambles and suggest valuable lessons have been learned. There seems little doubt that culling, of one sort of another – perhaps with a greater use of cage traps to make the task easier – will continue. The use of poison gas in badger setts has not been ruled out, providing criteria around humaneness can be met.

On Sunday, recently installed Farming Minister George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, issued a staunch defence of the cull – insisting it had been "worthwhile", and praising marksmen who "worked so hard... in the face of provocation".

"The extension to the cull has been worthwhile and has removed a significant number of badgers, which will make a difference to disease-control in the area," he said.

"Now that the cull company is seeing fewer badgers on the ground I agree with the decision to stop the pilot cull for this year, and I pay tribute to all those who in the face of provocation have worked so hard.

"Let's not forget that more than 305,000 cattle have been slaughtered in Great Britain in the past decade due to this terrible disease, which is why we are doing everything we can to get it under control."

To that end Mr Eustice's boss, Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, issued new guidelines on Thursday last week to tighten up still further on cattle testing and movement restrictions. They include the possibility that farmers who miss test deadlines, even by as little as a day, could find they lose part of their subsidy. Increasing the frequency of TB tests could also make it uneconomic to graze cattle on the Westcountry moors, as the WMN reported on Saturday.

There is little doubt that one reason for these measures is to be seen to 'level up' the pressure put on farmers to that which the public believe has already been imposed on wildlife. Several of the proposals – which are being consulted upon – have already angered farming groups.

Further badger culls are going to happen although when and where remains to be decided. What's not in doubt, however, is the deep divisions that this policy has thrown up are not going to go away.

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40 comments

  • Free2opine  |  December 04 2013, 8:15PM

    Ummm......I am already banned from there........too blue for that paper (actually I am too blue for the Cons, now they have gone over to the left)......they didn't like what I said about the benefits system :((( I might try and see if I can log on under another name.

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  • mmjames  |  December 04 2013, 7:54PM

    Free2opine Wednesday, December 04 2013, 6:06PM hehehe - how about joining me on that awful guard site? We could both easily get banned from that one ;) I'm itching to say what I really mean there....grrrrrrr

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  • Free2opine  |  December 04 2013, 6:06PM

    Oh dear, mm. They won't know the significance of your last comment, re "where the sun don't shine". ....and my fingers are itching to write something including that part of your comment, but, it might end up with me banned :(

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  • mmjames  |  December 04 2013, 5:24PM

    Deer are culled and as far as I know don't live in burrows where the sun don't shine!

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  • simonrtucker  |  December 04 2013, 10:51AM

    bruce07: be prepared to be attacked - certain posters on these threads will not accept that anybody who is or has been involved in farming can be against the cull. The cull fails on every count: 1. There is no accurate measure of the amount of TB in the badger population - and there has been no effort during the cull to find out what the level is in the cull zones. This can only be because they don't want the public to know how few badgers carry the disease. 2. Even the numbers of badgers infected does not indicate the extent of the problem: only "super-excretors" pass the bacilli out in their urine to contaminate pasture and, based on human modelling for TB, this is likely to be less than 2% of the infected population. 3. The end result of the cull is supposed to reduce BTB by 12 to 16% over 9 years: a pitiful target return for the deaths of so many animals. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows that the rise and spread of BTB is down to lax husbandry and quarantine practices exacerbated by the ridiculously high level of movement of animals around this small island. 4. If any animal is involved in the spread of BTB why are they not looking at deer? Both deer and cattle are even-toed ungulates, both are ruminants, both browse and graze and have much more common DNA than badgers, which are mustellids and omnivores. The yare much more likely to be involved in transmission in the natural world. Culling deer is likely to have much more impact on BTB, although the same caveats about numbers and super-excretors has to remain, but would have the added impact of benefiting our woodlands in regenerating understorey.

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  • bruce07  |  December 03 2013, 7:11PM

    I am a cattle farmer and I maintain that most of the decisions regarding the culling of badgers were rushed and based on hearsay. Culling is politically attactive to MPs since it mkes it look as though they are interested and know what they are doing - when, clearly, they are not really interested and they just don't have a clue. No-one has proven that only the badger transmits bTB and, longer term, unless culling is carried out on an annual basis, the problem will return - better to confirm the carrier animals and treat the problem at source before it materialises yet again in infected cattle. I plan to remain a cattle farmer but I dont trust these quick and ill thought out solutions.

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  • Free2opine  |  December 03 2013, 6:24PM

    Clueless.....of course the culls are latterly to reduce bTB in farmed animals, why else would they be culling badgers........to make sporrans or shaving brushes. Good grief.....try using the space between your ears once in a while!!!

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  • Free2opine  |  December 03 2013, 6:21PM

    Good grief....now Nat thinks I am something to do with the NFU. Last week I was OP's mother, the week before I WAS OP. I AM NOTHING TO DO WITH FARMING !!!!!!!! The badgersits are all making things up as they go along.

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  • Nat222  |  December 03 2013, 6:09PM

    Seems pretty obvious: These 'pilots' failed on every criterion set. They were ineffective, inhumane and only 'safe' in that no human was killed. However there were breaches of simple safety rules (eg live ammunition left on footpaths) and several protestors were assaulted - the fact that more weren't injured is more down to luck than judgement on the part of cull operators. It is ludicrous to even be having these discussions. For OP to claim any sort of 'success' beggars belief. It's almost embarassing to see him make such a fool of himself. Freezy and your mates in the NFU: at least have the decency and honesty to say you intend to do your utmost to carry on forcing culling through in the face of all evidence, sense and ethics simply because you believe you have the political opportunity to do so. Don't insult us by pretending that these 'pilots' were anything more than a (predictable) dismal farce.

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  • mmjames  |  December 03 2013, 5:20PM

    Sadly cage trapping has at least 2 huge disadvantages 1. Interference and willful damage 2. Great stress to the captive.

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