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Monday, August 25, 2014

UK Government's dysfunctional badger cull faces more trouble

The barmy idea, still being supported by the UK Government, that free shooting marksmen could successfully cull enough badgers on the cheap so as to make an impact on the incidence of bovine TB in a given area has encountered a rather predictable problem.

The Sunday Times reports that a criminal investigation has begun into government marksmen involved in last year’s badger cull following concerns that they jeopardised public safety.

The paper says that detectives are looking at one case where a man is claimed to have stalked a badger for an hour at South Herefordshire Golf Club near Upton Bishop while carrying a loaded rifle.

They add that another allegation is that at least 10 marksmen illegally used night sights to stalk the animals:

News of the investigation comes weeks before the cull is due to restart following a pilot scheme last year to try to curtail the spread of bovine tuberculosis in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset. Gloucestershire police confirmed an investigation was launched following claims by a whistleblower to The Sunday Times this month.

The golf club said its land was not in the cull zone, the marksman did not have permission to be on the course and that police had made a recent visit to discuss the claims.

The whistleblower, who worked for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a cull monitor, described witnessing a series of “chaotic” episodes while out with marksmen, including the alleged incident on the golf course.

Defra marksmen licensed to work on the badger cull are permitted to shoot the animals only on land within the cull zones, and they can only use night scopes when shooting from a fixed position at a badger that is not moving.

Some of us predicted that these problems might arise at the very beginning. Isn't it time that the Government abandoned this nonsense and listened to the science?

By continuing to resist investment in a badger vaccination programme and proper cattle control measures UK ministers are abrogating their responsibility and allowing bTB to spread.
The NFU/ culling companies hired self-employed shooters to work unsupervised on an extremely badly paid "pay by results" project for a few weeks ...

Unsurprisingly the "workforce" left in droves when they couldn't make any money. More people had to be dragged in by desperate "managers", to work on what everyone knew was a failing project.

Anyone with ANY management experience knows you can't control or supervise the "workers" in situations like this. Why didn't DEFRA?
Of course the marksman concerned was carrying a loaded rifle.

All the marksmen involved in the cull carried a loaded rifles. However, they have an integral locking mechanism that must be deactivated by a unique key before the gun can be fired, a safely catch. The 'whistleblower' shows a degree of naivety in this regard. It's also the case that the targets must be inside the cull zone, not the shooter, so it would be entirely appropriate for the marksman to cross a golf course to position him/herself to fire at the target in order to comply with the requirement and also to comply with additional restrictions such as distance from a public right of way. This is not stalking the target. This is positioning yourself in a place to ensure public safety, without disturbing the target.

Almost all marksmen are self employed. The one who is let to shoot rabbits on a farm near me is a self employed tree surgeon as his main occupation. He just happens to be licensed and insured to use fire arms. He is also available for hire and desperate to take on work for railway companies from a competitor, responding to jobs raised by the environmental health department for the city council (pigeons). Technically authorised by Peter Black himself, as a city councillor.
As I have no executive role on Swansea Council I have not authorised the shooting of pigeons in actuality or even technically
"Anonymous", the whistle-blower is reported to be ex military, someone with a great deal of previous experience with firearms. He's a credible witness on the face of it.

He put in the report concerning his safety worries about shooter behaviour at the time the events happened; he tried to get proper action taken on it. The police are now in contact with him as a witness to allegedly criminal and unsafe acts by the shooters.

The people you describe as "marksmen" don't seem entitled to be called that. The monitors for the Independent Expert Panel Report described a proportion of those they actually monitored as being extraordinarily incompetent shooters.

Using self-employed shooters unsupervised by anyone in authority over them almost all the time they're "working" is a recipe for disaster.

It's not even clear whether the contract between these individual shooters and the other bodies engaged in the badger cull would have authorised them to be sacked, however bad their behaviour was.

If the shooters could be sacked for bad behaviour, who had the authority to sack them? Was it the NFU (which seems to be indistinguishable from the culling companies officially in charge of the badger cull)? Was it Natural England (officially acting as the cull's Compliance Officer, in reality acting as DEFRA's fig leaf)?

In reality, I think only the police had the power and authority to control the shooters - because the police have the right to remove gun licences from anyone unfit to hold them.
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