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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

English badger cull looks like another disaster

The English badger cull starts on Saturday and already it is looking like it will be an unworkable mess.

I still find it difficult to believe that any responsible Government minister could conceive of a cull method that involves free-shooting marksmen targeting unsecured badgers at night.

There is no guarantee that a clean kill can be taken every time, leaving the possibility of badly wounded animals crawling away to die in pain. When you throw in the likelihood of protestors on the scene it seems that we are facing an accident waiting to happen.

The Government are seeking to cull 70% of the badgers in any one area but as this article makes clear they have no idea how many of this protected species are in any one place at any one time. That means that there is a real danger that they could illegally wipe out every badger in the cull zones.

And the Government do not even appear to have taken into account the possibility of perturbation, in which badgers are shaken out of their normal environment in fear of their life and spread bTB elsewhere. That is one of the reasons why scientists do not believe that a cull is the right answer.

The Guardian explains that the stakes are very high for DEFRA:

The government is determined to have an impact on the disease which in 2012 meant that more than 37,000 cattle had to be slaughtered at a cost to the taxpayer of £100m. But the costs of carrying out and policing the culls will mount as animal rights campaigners mobilise to disrupt the night-time shoots and last-minute legal challenges loom.

The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were postponed in October after farmers' low estimates of badger numbers were rejected in favour of higher government numbers. Now the population estimates have been reduced again, after further government study.

Sources have told the Guardian that David Cameron has made clear to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, that another U-turn on the culls is unacceptable and that Paterson's job is at stake. An insider said that key officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are "pale with worry".

Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, was a key member of the team that spent a decade and £50 million culling 11,000 badgers before concluding that culling could make "no meaningful contribution" to reducing bovine TB. She is quoted in the paper as saying: "Badger numbers halted the cull in October and could still be the thing which makes the cull unworkable. That is completely plausible."

Quick fixes will not solve this problem. That is why the Welsh Government's approach of vaccination is a rational solution and likely to be more effective in the long term. The UK Government need to think again.

The Welsh Government considered shooting as an option but responded to the public objections by going down the route of vaccination
It remains to be seen how effective this is and what other options will be considered in the event of vaccination failing.
Remember measles most in Wales would have bet against its reappearance
Ps a point England and Wales have devolved on this legislation The English Government not the UK will have to think again
Why complete silence from the Lib Dem partners? At one time Clegg was against a badger kill – the science or public opinion has not altered since he made that decision
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