On Saturday the WMN called for a debate on managing the English countryside and culling some foreign invaders in the context of the hotly disputed badger cull. Steve Yandall responds.
The reality of targeting foreign 'invaders' like mink and grey squirrels in the same context as native species is a deception.
The establishment of the grey squirrel and mink ran in tandem with mankind depressing numbers of pine marten and otter – and inflicting huge environmental change on our landscape. That is not to say that both invaders would not have survived but they would have survived in far lower numbers had natives been 'balanced'. Both those foreign species pushed natives to the brink of extinction but the badger has done no such thing – let's get that clear.
It is a fact that otters will not tolerate mink in their territories and the re-establishment of otters has had more to do with the mink decline than trapping and shooting. Squirrels are a target species for pine marten. I believe goshawks may also take squirrels and I have witnessed a raven killing one too.
I contest the assumptive nature of any individual that questions the rights of a species without first questioning why we are not controlling human inundation.
The root of our impact on nature is human need – in other words, consumerism – and we thus compartmentalise, restrict, suspend and manipulate nature whilst lamenting declining numbers within individual species and the total loss of other species within the smug placebo of conservation.
Yes badgers will take hedgehogs and other species but are not the root cause of their decline. We are! We will continue to cause declines and extinctions until our government gives us an incentive for human population control rather than population growth.
Yes 1.7% of badgers carry infectious bovine TB but are not considered by leading scientists as a meaningful part of any bTB control programme. Of course populations fluctuate in accordance with natural controls, including food, disease and other factors. But why, within that context, is the exclusion of badgers from farm stock feed not implemented? That would not only limit food losses, but badgers would have a reduced the incentive to visit and interact with cattle.
Assessing how humane it is to shoot badgers was the expressed objective of the cull. I wonder just why the results achieved by the Game Conservancy in 2006 would not suffice? Was it perhaps the 30% injury rate that they found occurred. Is it humane to kill 100 badgers knowing that 1.7% are infectious,14.3% have low bTB rates and 84 are free of infection? Is it humane to kill them with the knowledge that culling increases bTB in residual populations and raises bTB on perimeter farms by 25%? That seems to me hardly humane or to promote the welfare of badgers.
The bland acceptance of Owen Paterson's world "fact finding" mission is distressing. It was worthless, other than to serve his own objectives. So few people in favour of culling have read the Randomised Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) report of 2007 and are thus accepting of a political "solution" that does not fulfil scientific scrutiny.
The cull does not have the support of the farming community – vaccination does.
The vaccination of badgers is 'brushed off' by Paterson as not 100% successful. What he fails to acknowledge isthat vaccination will achieve a higher percentage effect in reducing bTB than culling will achieve.
According to the chief veterinary officer the cull cannot be assessed for any humane outcome. That negates the justification for its implementation and questions the motivation for proceeding with the cull.
The cull will not result in any scientific gain – 4,800 badgers are being targeted. It is intended that they will die but there will be no autopsy. Only 150 selected corpses will be assessed to find out if the shooting is humane. Even the NFU wanted culled badgers to be subject to autopsy to check for bTB.
The cull becomes murkier with realisation that the NFU represent only 18% of the agricultural community. I believe NFU pressure resulted in restocking after foot and mouth without correct biosecurity measures in place. That is what caused the bovine TB peak.
Every countryman knows that the creation of a vacuum sucks in surrounding animals of the same species and allows numbers to build thus creating a perpetual need to cull whereas territorial animals become self regulating if left alone and unnatural food sources are inaccessible.
The immediate result of culling is likely to be an explosion in fox numbers which should suit Paterson's spin, just as Defra Minister Richard Benyon avoids the obvious answer to urban fox control – penalising those who do not dispose of food waste securely. I would urge readers to read the RBCT report. Its authors are scientific professionals who have no interest in anything other than bTB control. Is the same true of Owen Paterson?