A Conservative campaigner against the badger cull has written to Environment Secretary Liz Truss, urging her to abandon the policy of killing badgers before the shooting re-starts this autumn.
Lorraine Platt, founder of the group Blue Badger, says the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year were a “disaster”.
And she concludes her letter: “Minister, isn’t now the time to cancel the needless practice of culling a protected species? It is clearly open to accusations of being absurd, given the crushing scientific evidence against it.”
Ms Platt quotes a number of prominent scientists who have spoken out against the cull, including the chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee Professor David McDonald who said it was an “epic failure” and Professor Tim Coulson, one of the members of the Independent Experts Panel (IEP) who monitored the cull, which she said found it to be “ineffective and inhumane.”
However Ms Truss has made it clear, through direct comments in the House of Commons and via Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens – who gave a media briefing on badgers and bovine TB two weeks ago – that she intends to re-start the pilot culls.
Marksmen working for the cull companies in Somerset and Gloucestershire are currently undergoing training to improve accuracy and answer the criticisms from the IEP that some badgers which were shot took more than five minutes to die.
Mr Gibbens underlined the comments made by Ms Truss’s predecessor at Defra, Owen Paterson, that no country in the world had eradicated bovine TB without dealing with the disease in the wild as well as on the farm.
But in her letter to Ms Truss, Lorraine Platt challenges that claim. She writes: “Government claims that badger culling is needed to tackle tuberculosis in cattle based on successes in other countries are ‘seriously flawed’, a group of 19 vets has said in a letter to the Veterinary Record, saying that very few countries had needed to kill wildlife as part of TB control programmes.
“In New Zealand, brush tail possums have been targeted to tackle TB, but the species is not a native breed, has caused significant problems for other wildlife and has very different habits and social structure to badgers, the vets said. They added that the efficacy of ‘indiscriminate’ culling of badgers to control TB in cattle was not supported by scientific evidence.”
However in his briefing Mr Gibbens also referred to culling programmes in the United States, where white-tailed deer are the TB carrier and, closer to home, in Ireland where a cull of badgers is helping to bring the disease under control.
Mr Gibbens said: “Ireland is dealing with the badger and has made great progress towards freedom from TB by maintaining cattle controls similar to ours but dealing with badgers across the whole of Ireland much more strictly than we do.”
However Ms Platt tells the Secretary of State: “We need to focus more fully on bio security measures and the development of modern cattle vaccines to deliver effective protections against TB for farmers and batten down further on cattle testing and movements.”
The Government says developing an effective cattle vaccine and changing the law around the world so it can
be administered legally is between ten and 15 years away while badger vaccination is effective only on TB-free badgers. In the South West it is estimated 30% of badgers are infected with the disease.
WMN opinion – page 10