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Are ministers considering a U-turn on badger cull?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 19, 2012

John McInerney

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There was confusion last night about the future of the controversial badger cull after ministers called off interviews with journalists prompting speculation that rising costs might mean a postponement of the project.

Speculation is rife that the two pilot culls in South West bovine tuberculosis hotspot areas may be called off or postponed at short notice. The Government insisted, however, it remained committed to the policy of carrying out pilot culls.

The two pilots in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, involve licensed marksmen shooting all badgers across 70% of a cull area.

But now it appears there are more badgers in the cull areas than previously calculated. That means that in the case of West Somerset the cost of culling could possibly have as much as doubled. Rumours suggest farmers may be balking at paying more.

Previous calculations showed it would cost more than £1,000 overall for every animal killed, according to research by academics from Exeter University.

Professor John McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy there, based figures on the Government's own impact assessment, and concluded that the cull would cost more than it saved.

He calculated that for over 150 square kilometres, where up to 1,500 badgers could be shot, the costs of culling would be more than £1.5 million.

More than £800,000 of the cost would be for policing and monitoring, while farmers would pay a much smaller amount for employing marksmen to shoot the animals.

Professor McInerney said the cull cost was "not worth it." He added: "Purely in financial terms the value gained is less than would be spent. But public decisions are not just made on financial terms. The calculations imply the cost would fall on the taxpayer. In my own opinion, you shouldn't spend public money in this way during a time when it is scarce." He described the policing and monitoring costs as "astounding", adding: "Over half of the assessed cost for the cull is on the police. This may show the extent of public opposition and the desire to maintain law and order. Or, more disturbingly, it may show the danger posed by a threatening group of animal activists."

His colleague, Professor Robbie McDonald, former head of wildlife science at the Government Food and Environment Research Agency, conducted separate research on the impact of the cull. He said: "Managing wildlife to reduce TB in cattle is likely to produce unimpressive results."

Last year 26,000 cattle were destroyed as a result of bovine TB, costing £90 million to the taxpayer and causing anguish to farming families that saw their herds decimated. Dealing with bovine TB has cost the nation £500 million. Research is continuing to perfect a reliable vaccine for cattle and badgers.

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 20 2012, 11:03PM

    The Badger Killers site reports they've seen pre-baiting at two badger setts in Gloucestershire, details of the farms to be given tomorrow.

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 20 2012, 3:03PM

    @TheTakemon2 Culling badgers is opposed by a huge majority of the public and that's been the case for years (earlier opinion polls some years ago recorded around 81% public being against killing badgers, more recent polls in some areas have found up to 97% against the cull). What a few individuals in government have done is to say "Forget being accountable to the public, we'll ignore what the voters want us to do (though they'll have to pay for it). We'll ignore the science (which says killing badgers to reduce cattle bTB won't work). We'll ignore the vets and animal welfare organisations (who say free-shooting will result in enormous suffering for the badgers). Instead, we'll let our unelected, unaccountable friends in the NFU and pro-hunting lobbies decide policy". Government and the NFU can't be surprised by the huge public backlash when the government we elect and pay for refuses to take any notice of what the electorate say. The police warned government public opposition to the cull is so widespread the costs of policing it will be huge. At that stage, a rational government should have decided to drop the badger cull and start actioning the far more effective and electorally acceptable policy of tighter control of cattle movement.

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  • TheTakemon2  |  October 20 2012, 10:02AM

    All these idiot protesters are doing is pushing up the cost of the cull as they have to have more police to stop these idiots interrupting. The police have better things to do than stop these idiots!. Having an opinion and voicing it legally is fine but threats and intimidation is not acceptable. It's a shame we can't have a animal activist cull aswell.

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 19 2012, 8:06PM

    The public were invited to present ideas on what DEFRA strategy should be in controlling cattle bTB. Part of my contribution dealt with the importance of trying to safeguard the department and staff against the excessive pressure exerted by special interest groups when their ministers were also in thrall to them. Paterson and Beynon are both part of the pro-hunting and pro-shooting groups - these groups' websites sell the idea that wildlife will burgeon out of contol unless human beings routinely cull them. The NFU senior officials are often part of the same pro-hunting / pro-shooting group and will have the same mindset. Pity the poor DEFRA staff trying to argue for an evidence-based approach to controlling cattle bTB when their ministers "know" shooting lots of our wildlife will do the trick!

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  • NDJMILLER  |  October 19 2012, 1:30PM

    One cannot help but wonder how many independent, highly respected and qualified scientists have to challenge the cull before someone in DEFRA sits up and takes notice. They're only repeating what was said five years ago. http://tinyurl.com/2c5bvd Unfortunately as long as the decisions are being made by individuals like Caroline Spelman, Owen Paterson and Richard "Buzzard" Benyon then logic won't enter into the argument, so bring on the Parliamentary debate next week. I appreciate that the vote won't be binding but it could well end up giving the coalition the kick in the teeth it deserves, and not for the first time.

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