BY JAMIE FOSTER
The badger cull could be extended into low risk areas in England where badgers have been connected to outbreaks of TB by the autumn if licences are approved by Natural England. Despite opposition from the Badger Trust and other animal rights groups, Defra under Michael Gove has decided to carry on with the cull as part of the overall strategy to manage Bovine TB. The cull will only be extended into low risk areas on a case by case basis where it is shown that local outbreaks are associated with infected badgers. Farmers will be able to apply directly for licences to shoot badgers on their land with a bounty of £50 per badger shot dead.
Last year more than 19,000 badgers were shot dead in the eight counties of Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Natural England has received applications to expand this year’s cull scheme to eight more counties: Avon, Berkshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Defra published the results of its consultation on Thursday (24 May) on proposals to cull badgers in low-risk areas (LRA) in the north and east of England, including Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent.
Defra announced that adding low risk areas where cattle were at risk of contracting TB from badgers was a natural extension of the cull strategy to eradicate TB. It also stated that badger vaccination would not eradicate TB from the badger population in an acceptable timescale.
Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman accused Michael Gove of “total hypocrisy on animal welfare”.
She said: “Nearly 20,000 badgers were culled last year, the highest number ever, as part of this ineffective and unscientific badger cull.
“This follows the Government’s recent intention to roll out the cull into areas that are designated as ‘low risk’, an approach becoming more unjustifiable with each passing month.
“The Government has no indication of how many badgers being shot are even infected and their free shooting policy raises serious questions about safety and standards.
“If the Tories are so determined to prove their environmental credentials, they should echo Labour’s commitment to halt the badger cull across England, reinstate their independent advisory panel and formally review their policy on how to tackle bovine TB.”
Farmers will welcome the government’s support in this area and will not wish to follow the Labour policy outlined by Sue Hayman. In particular the reinstatement if the independent advisory panel would be seen by them as a retrograde step as, since it was disbanded, the anti badger cull activists have found it much more difficult to find where the cull is taking place at any given moment.
The Badger Trust suggests that Michael Gove will be remembered as the Defra Secretary who oversaw local extinction of badgers for economic gain. Actually there is no evidence of local extinction arising out of the culls. Part of the problem has been that badgers were heavily overpopulated since receiving the protection of the Badgers Act. In Germany they allow the sport shooting of 60,000 badgers each year and do not have a problem with bovine TB in the badger population. TB is, after all, a disease of overpopulation.
Michael Gove is very brave to stick to his guns over this cull in the face of so much opposition from organised activist groups. He is guided by the science as he should be and is right to believe that the eradication of bovine TB requires the use of every tool in the tool box including culling. With all of the uncertainty that farmers face it is right to try to eradicate this most despicable of diseases.
Labour shows, through its opposition to the cull, that it doesn’t take farming seriously in this country. It will never gain a foothold in rural England as long as it takes such a stance. In the end this is a horrible disease but it is possible to completely eradicate it from our national herd and our badger population. If we can do that then it will be to this government’s credit that they stuck to the task through thick and thin.