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OPINION: Badger cull - Unpopular and cruel or restoring balance?

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

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In this week's Opinion, anti-badger cull campaigner Barbara Garwood explains her frustration at a government pilot which she feels is cruel, unpopular and illegal.

I wish to draw your readers’ attention to the mass badger slaughter that is happening night after night and has now been extended in the two pilot areas for at least another three weeks.

This extension is due to not enough badgers being killed, although I feel this is against the law.

The intention is to roll the cull out from the early part of next year, to the rest of the country, so it will soon come to an area near you.

If the Government has its way it will continue for very many years to eliminate 70% of our native badger population.

I believe the Government has proved it has no clue as to the numbers of our supposedly protected native mammal, around since before the ice age, which could easily now become extinct.

All the scientific evidence is stacked up against this needless slaughter, except of course the Government’s own scientists. No surprise there.

Ask the locals in the two pilot cull areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire, who have the screams of wounded badgers ringing in their ears.

Many badgers will die agonising lingering deaths in their setts and young badgers will starve to death.

The vast majority of badgers will be perfectly healthy, no testing for TB but the evidence burnt like rubbish.

Many badgers are being killed on huge landowners’ sites, where there are no cattle but massive numbers of factory farmed pheasants.

Vaccination of badgers has now proved to cost very much less.

There are some brave people out there night after night, from all age groups and walks of life, professionals, including vets, nurses, doctors and many retired, all united in their belief of how completely immoral and pointless this cull is.

Environment SecretaryOwen Patterson has become a laughing stock with his ridiculous comments.

My MP Geoffrey Cox is all for the badger cull and wants a repeal of the hunting ban, he won’t be getting our vote.

When I posed questions to him his reply was that despite local opinion, he won’t change his mind.

If you care about animals please find out the views of your own MP. This cull is hugely unpopular throughout the country. We have experience on the ground, of the extreme anger and emotion in Bideford alone.

Farmers have stated to me that this cull will never work, it is considered a shambles. My fear is that this could signal the return of blood sports through the back door.

On Friday, November 29, it was announced the badger cull in Gloucestershire had been ended early after marksmen killed 708 badgers, about 30% of the local badger population. The target had been 70%.

But South West National Farmers Union regional board chairman Minette Batters says those who claim to speak up for wildlife should be helping to make the case for a cull to restore balance for all species.

CALL me paranoid, but I’m beginning to think farmers are becoming political pawns – “Aunt Sallies” for all and sundry to have a shy at.

So I want to make a plea for one or two other organisations, not least in the conservation arena, to speak up for what’s right rather than politically expedient.

While all we want to do is produce the wholesome British food consumers tell us they want – and, in so doing, shape and manage a beautiful, wildlife-rich landscape – we find ourselves thrust into the maelstrom of political polarisation and the activism it has spawned, particularly over issues like bovine TB and badger culling.

I’m not going to go over all the animal health and welfare arguments relating to this most vexatious issue yet again. They have been aired exhaustively. I do want to explore a wider perspective which is worrying me and a lot of other farmers in the South West, and that’s the sheer numbers of badgers and the adverse impact this is having way beyond TB. It is potentially a prickly subject for wildlife trusts who, in some instances, have campaigned vehemently against touching so much as a bristle on a badger snout.

The badger has been upstaged in the nation’s affections by the hedgehog which has taken pride of place in a national poll run by the BBC Wildlife Magazine to become Britain’s favourite species.

This accolade won applause from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, whose chief executive, Fay Vass, said: “We are thrilled, it could not have come at a better time; hedgehog numbers are in fairly sharp decline so they need all the help they can get.”

Alas, all too true, but we are illuminated further by another item on the society’s website – a study entitled The State Of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2011.

It pulls no punches about the impact of “more intensive” agriculture, not to mention the trend to fence gardens rather than hedge them and the huge death toll on the roads.

But it also has this to say: “Badgers are a natural predator of hedgehogs and hedgehogs actively avoid sites where badgers are present in high numbers.

“When the habitat provides sufficient cover and good foraging opportunities, badgers and hedgehogs can coexist, but when there is no safe refuge and the prey that the two species compete for is scarce, hedgehogs may be in serious trouble.”

According to an email sent to one of the NFU’s South West horticulture board members, the Bumble Bee Trust revealed that badgers are, along with the Wax Moth, at the top of the predatory tree in terms of their destruction of bumble bees and that “in some areas of the UK where the badger population has exploded we are concerned about what effect this will have on bumble bee populations”.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management says the badger is a classic example of a population out of control which “urgently needs to be brought under control for the sake of the badgers themselves, cattle and cattle farmers, other wildlife and, not least because of the hazard from TB to man and other wild and domestic animals”.

So I am challenging the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and even some of those at Natural England, to work with us.

Stop prevaricating and lend your significant influence to achieving a worthwhile objective – a restored natural balance, including a healthy badger population in a healthy countryside where all species can thrive.

What are your thoughts on the badger cull? Let us know by commenting in the box below or sending us a letter by emailing letters@northdevonjournal.co.uk

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20 comments

  • simonrtucker  |  December 07 2013, 4:24PM

    Free2opine: I see that you are highly selective in your use of sources: you quote Krebs' work when it suits you but ignore it when, as is his current position, he comes out and says that the cull is wrong and will make things worse. Unlike you and your cohort in favour of killing badgers to no good purpose in the face of all current independent scientific evidence (I discount DEFRA propaganda) I would be in favour of trapping badgers and testing for BTB and euthanasing those that are infected and vaccinating those that aren't. At the same time, they should treat cattle herds with TB as they do with Foot & Mouth: cull the lot and have a strict decontamination and delayed restocking programme for the farmer whose poor husbandry has led to the situation. British wildlife is more important than the livelihood of incompetent farmers.

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  • Free2opine  |  December 06 2013, 2:31PM

    @Groundnut Arguably, you could say that a lot of policing is non-productive, however, that is the nature of the beast. Police having to patrol streets checking on drunks of an evening, police having to have roadside check points to see if everybody is abiding by the law. The list goes on. Are my examples cost productive!!?? Just as well we don't live in France, where anybody seems to hold demonstrations, for anything they don't like the Government doing. The police there, are always out in full, trying to calm the situations.

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  • Free2opine  |  December 06 2013, 2:19PM

    Simon Tucker, where I live, there are ordinary small farmers going about their business, following ordinary farming practices and we have Yellowhammers, Larks, Peregrines, hares, Golden Plovers, Jack Snipe, partridges, black redstarts,etc, etc, etc, Oh and for your information , I am a naturalist, who appreciates and yearns for a healthy countryside, looked after by ALL farmers. Unfortunately , we also have bTB on many CLOSED farms. I live in the realistic World, not the make-believe World where SOME people put wildlife above human needs.

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  • Free2opine  |  December 06 2013, 1:10PM

    Groundnut....you STILL have the expertise of the AHVLA, only on dedicated sites. Vets will send any samples to these sites, if they need to. Policing is a contentious issue which IF the badger culls were allowed to proceed as the law dictates, then there would not be the need for such an expense. Gassing badgers would be cheaper, as it would be a quiet operation and harmless to humans, on private farm land. PCR testing of setts, to see which ones have diseased badgers within their confines, would solve this problem. Farms testing positive for bTB would be the first ones to get their setts tested and dealt with. This would cut out the need for badgers to be killed on non-animal farmland. Lifting the overall protection would enable those same farmers to shoot any badgers, then straying onto their land. Trying to beef up your case against culling is all rather pitiful. Gone is your argument that not all badgers need to be culled, to trying to persuade people against the cull, by making ridiculous statements. It smacks of desperation.

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  • groundnut  |  December 06 2013, 12:49PM

    So what saving are you making if you have already spent it on policing costs? Better to have the expertise still employed in AHVLA . After all this same amount of testing will still be required. Probably cost the farmer more as he is required to undertake it with Private labs. You need to justify your costs-- policing is a Political cost, relating to the governments non science based policy. Policing is a non-productive cost. You can't get any part of the economy back on any track if you allow Ministers to operate in this manner. You either Cut the budget and use it productively, or you grossly overspend by Political miss judgement and ignorance. There is NO return on Policing Costs- that is money wasted, when scientific experts are bypassed, and alternative science based solutions exist. But to suggest rolling it out next year without even waiting for any reports or financial costs being known. Is not trying in any way to save the taxpayer money. It is in fact just the opposite. Arrogance and ignorance in the extreme. I am surprised if you as an accountant could in any way, in this argument justify the DEFRA policing expenditure. It is certainly not getting the country back on its Feet, this level of unaccountability. I repeat this is balancing your budget damage limitation, knowing you have already spent it, in a very unjustifiable, unproductive manner. I won't argue about 7 or 14 regional offices. I do under the present animal (cattle) health situation in the UK. Which seems to be getting more demanding? See the need to retain AHVLA expertise and question any 30% budget cuts, to offset unproductive expenditure, on an NFU Security Force

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  • Free2opine  |  December 06 2013, 12:07PM

    Groundnut.......you don't need so many AHVLA premises these days. You might just as well have 7 working full days rather than 14 working on and off, as and when the need arises. The cost of keeping 14 labs up and running full time is a complete waste of money, especially as samples can be sent by courier quickly and easily anywhere in the UK. It is a wonder somebody hasn't realised this before, if for nothing else, but to save the taxpayers money. No doubt many of the scientists/staff can be re-located, as is normal with many governmental specialised departments or come to that, any businesses. Let's face facts, in your case, this has got nothing to do with saving taxpayers money, more a case of trying to find any little thing to have a dig at this governments attempt to get the economy back on track. Would you rather they make cuts in other services. ps I am no longer a Conservative, so I have nothing to gain by agreeing with this move, I am however a financial accountant and do realise that this country needs to make as many savings as they can, to stop this country going BANKRUPT, which would lead to huge problems to ALL of the population.

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  • groundnut  |  December 06 2013, 11:52AM

    Today in The Times (Friday) it was announced by Defra and its Ministers that 7 out of 14 AHVLA testing laboratories for Animal Diseases will be closed. This is in response to a 3 million pound cut in its Budget. This has of course implications in post mortem and disease testing in Farm animals. As is normal Defra has indicated that the implications of this have been looked at, by an Independent Panel of experts. !!! But can someone tell me how DEFRA and its ministers can justify this closure and loss of expert Veterinary and Scientific personnel, from a growing and more industrialised Farming industry. While at the same time it is paying significant sums, (probably in excess of £2 million pounds) for policing costs alone for a non-science based Badger killing exercise. And before we even get told of the total Final Cost, its sponsors Owen Paterson, DEFRA and the NFU are talking about success and a rollout. The UK farming Industry cannot afford to lose the expertise of AHVLA, it cannot afford to further squander taxpayers money on policing costs. These scientists have already provided a valuable contribution in veterinary research. And have a significant and immediate contribution to make in the future. Time for this style of politics to end, it is not beneficial or productive.

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  • barryterry-2  |  December 06 2013, 10:09AM

    mmjames . So that's your idea to stop badger baiting (kill the badgers before the baiters get there ) and flatten the sets with a JCB ?

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  • mmjames  |  December 05 2013, 10:48PM

    Hopefully next year PCR will be used to detect infected setts, the occupants euthanased in situ and buried to prevent healthy badgers entering and becoming infected. Failing that then the super protection lifted, bringing UK badgers into line with those in the rest of the world, while effectively prosecuting anyone who baits the animals with dogs.

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  • bobthebadger  |  December 05 2013, 10:14PM

    The badgers will never be healthy if you don't deal with the bTB in the cattle. Bumble bees? - what about the decimation of bees in general reported by latest scientific thinking to be due to the toxic mixtures of agrochemicals now in use? If there any proof that hedgehog decline is due to badgers? - I haven't seen any.

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