It’s great to talk about successful animals, and animals on the recovery, but sometimes we have to think about animals at risk. Thanks to a spectacularly poorly thought-out policy decision, this now includes badgers. I’m not for one moment claiming badgers are going to end up extinct, or even endangered, as a result of the current culling plans. But they face a threat, and that has to be addressed.
Owen Patterson thinks all those opposing the cull are wooly-minded liberals suffering from “sad sentimentality”. This is astonishingly stupid. There’s no sentiment involved. It is science, as we can see. I’ve embedded several links into this blog post that provide the source of statements, and further information. If you’ve time, it’s worth reading the Badger Trust’s letter to Natural England in advance of legal action: Letter (pdf)
The aim of the badger cull is to reduce the occurrence of bovine tuberculosis (BTB). This is a noble aim, as BTB testing and compensation cost around £90m in 2011 and appears to be spreading. If a badger cull really could help eradicate this, it would be worth doing. But it’s not. Because it won’t help.
To get the 16% reduction, 70% of badgers need to be culled within an area. But with no accurate estimate of badger numbers, a limited window to carry out the cull, and the likelihood of badgers simply leaving the area, this is near-impossible to achieve.
The estimated cost of the cull in the pilot areas, in terms of the bounty and policing, is estimated at around £1.5m. But the saving only comes to £950k. So we are not getting anything on the economic argument. Even the National Farmers Union now seem to have doubts, as they know their members will lose out financially. Yet the relevant government minister, Owen Patterson, is trying desperately to avoid another U-Turn, even if it means the taxpayer and the badger, and the farmers, losing out.
DEFRA did a live Q&A via Twitter last week. While they were fine on the evidence that supports their position, they were evasive and disingenuous on evidence that didn’t, maintaining the cull was supported by “all the available evidence which we have published”. Even this isn’t true, as the main study they site says that the cull is likely to cause an increase in BTB in surrounding areas. Key questions have been ignored, such as why BTB is also increasing in badger-free Anglesey. So the evidence base for this cull is very poor.
So why is it going ahead? In the words of one source, it’s a “carrot” that the government offer the farmers to keep them onside. It’s not the first time this government have tried to waste our money on ill-advised wildlife policy.
The best option for all is to improve animal husbandry and biosecurity, take more stringent approaches to dealing with infected herds, and focus investment on vaccines for both badgers and cattle. That’s a hard choice, it’s not a quick fix. But it’s better to get this right, than mess about with actions that certainly won’t help, and could make life worse.
What can you do?
If you haven’t, then sign the petition HERE.
The cull is bad for badgers, bad for cattle, bad for you, bad for me, bad for farmers. It’s not good for anyone or anything, apart perhaps for the ego of certain ministers. It has to stop.