English counties to begin 'safe, humane' badger cull
THOUSANDS OF badgers are to be killed in England in an attempt to significantly reduce TB in cattle herds in Gloucestershire. The cull – the shooting and trapping of the badgers – could last for four years and eliminate 100,000.
Culling, which is fiercely opposed by animal rights campaigners, could begin in three weeks, once farmers prove they can pay for it.
A second licence will be issued to farmers in Somerset and both will be independently monitored. If the six-week culls are found to be “‘effective and humane” they will continue for up to four years and up to 10 licences a year will be awarded.
Up to 70 per cent of the badger population will be killed in each of the districts, though maximum limits will be set “to prevent the risk of local extinction”, Natural England, the British government’s advisory body, said yesterday.
Welcoming the move, the National Farmers’ Union quoted the example of Ireland: “Since 2008, badger control measures in the Republic of Ireland have resulted in a decrease of TB in cattle by almost a third,” it said.
Trials in England have shown that culling works, with TB infection rates running one-third lower inside control areas, said the farming body’s head of food and farming, Philip Hudson.
Former Northern Ireland secretary of state Owen Paterson, who recently transferred to head the department of environment, has been a long-standing supporter of culling, tabling 600 House of Commons questions on this issue alone during 2004.
In an interview with the Farmers Guardian last week, Mr Paterson held to his views: “I come at this from a practical countryman’s point of view. Nobody likes killing any animals, but we want healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.
“I am convinced it is the right thing to do until we get a vaccine,” he said.
“We cannot allow this pool of disease to keep on growing. I find the attitude of those who want these wonderful animals to die of this disgusting disease completely incomprehensible.”
Culling alone will not solve the problem of TB-infected badgers, said a former government adviser, Prof Robert Watson. Farmers in Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire believe it will reduce rates by up to 20 per cent, he said.
“They think [it] is significant and they are willing to pay for [it],” said Prof Watson, “I would say the economics is very close as to whether it is worth it. But the government has made a decision that it should be tried if farmers are willing to fund it.”
Minister of state for agriculture and food David Heath said the Gloucestershire and Somerset culls would help experts to decide whether, or not to “look at a wider roll out to control the spread of bovine TB in cattle.
“No one wants to kill badgers but the science is clear that we will not get on top of this disease without tackling it in both wildlife and cattle.”
Mr Heath insisted the culls would be “safe, humane and effective”.
Decisions on culling in Scotland and Wales are devolved to the Scottish and Welsh government. Wales has decided to vaccinate badgers, while Scotland, which has low TB rates, has no plans to start culling.
Opponents warn that culls do not end once they begin. The Wildlife Trust insists they do not work because surviving badgers flee their traditional boundaries, thereby spreading the disease. For a cull to be effective, every badger in a district would need to be killed, they say.