As the badger cull rolls closer, emotions are smothering the reality of the facts of life in our countryside, writes Rebecca Jordan.
This is a free society where debate has formed our laws and intellect.
As was the case when fox hunting was deemed illegal, websites and reams of newspaper print spew inaccurate, vitriolic opinions and heart-wrenching anecdotes which have been angrily bashed out on computer keyboards in our cities and towns by kinsmen many generations detached from their countryside roots.
The British people have a morbid tendency to anthropomorphism which is based on a natural affinity to animals. As an historically sustainable island nation, nearly every family today will be able to trace its story back to farming. Yet the fact remains, 90% of our population now lives in either cities or towns and has no direct contact with other species. But they have the majority voice.
We are surrounded by technology and science that carries no truck with sentiment. And behind the doors of Parliament money holds sway. So, in this case, science, reasoning and haemorrhaging costs helped politicians make their decision to take this last opportunity to stop the spread of this vile disease and clean up our countryside.
And this is the last chance. Today's politicians have stuck to their guns and made it clear they want a result. Let's face it; no Government can justify a predicted £1 billion bill over the next ten years to shore up a situation which can be rectified. Especially when farmers in the cull areas agree to share the cost.
The priority is to protect uninfected cattle herds and badger populations. Bovine TB is well on its way to infecting the whole country. It is spreading into uninfected regions at a rate of up to ten miles a year. Recently it has been detected in Scotland – which prides itself on its TB-free status.
No country has successfully tackled the spread of bovine TB without addressing its presence in the wildlife population. And the reason the badger population has become so infected is due to spiralling population numbers which have soared since the Badger Protection Act was passed 20 years ago.
With a quarter of the UK's badgers residing in the South West, work is focused here, where the incidence of bTB in cattle is also at its peak. And so, the two cull pilot areas have been designed so features such as coast land, rivers and motorways create a wall through which the disease cannot pass. This is vital to the trial's success.
Remember this cull is not the be-all and end-all of eradicating bovine TB. It is part of a three-pronged attack. Farmers and scientists also have to pull their weight. Already all cattle are tested for bovine TB infection before moving to another holding or market. There is a 60-day window in which to carry out that movement. It is likely movement could be reduced to 30 days with no compensation available to cover the loss of infected stock that, by law, must be slaughtered.
Imagine if you had to take your horse or dog to the vet every month for an injection and then notify the Government if you wanted to take it off your property.
Scientists are under serious pressure to advance the work they are doing on vaccines. These are ineffective on bovine TB-infected badgers and hence will do nothing to stop the spread of disease. Under EU law it is illegal to sell meat and milk produced from vaccinated cattle. Brussels wants the disease eradicated.
Recently, much Press coverage has been given to the views of the Badger Welfare Association, which is keen to identify diseased badger setts and gas them with carbon monoxide. What has not been recorded is the fact setts are too large for this technique to be effective and there is no licence for the gas.
However, scientists are encouraged to investigate fresh ideas such as foam gas and the use of the polymerase chain reaction test to identify setts containing infected badgers. The current test is not yet at a stage where it could be considered for wider field use.
So that is why the cull plays such a crucial part in the plan to eradicate this disease. Once bovine TB is eliminated in heavily-infected areas – in both cattle and badgers – it will be possible to use other techniques to control and prevent its stranglehold on our countryside.
We all take pleasure in a dynamic wildlife population. We all need to eat healthily. In my opinion the best way to harvest protein is to turn grass into meat. Without this cull we shall soon have a wildlife population riddled with disease and an empty landscape.