Badger Update : Will cull ever properly take place?

The badger cull is controversial in that it, for this blog writer, fails in a number of areas – including being NOT being able to guarantee success after killing these beautiful ‘protected’ creatures!  Geoffrey Lean of The Telegraph raises some interesting issues. 

So, after all that, ministers have still not definitively decided whether to authorise killing badgers to prevent them spreading TB to cattle. And it is far from clear that, even when they do, a full-blown cull will ever take place or that – if it does – it will work.

After months and months of agonising, a full blown “consultation” exercise, more than twenty encounters with every conceivable interest group, a series of scientific meetings and endless discussions between ministers and civil servants, environment secretary Caroline Spelman has merely announced that she is “strongly minded” to allow the killing. Nothing firmer can be expected before the autumn, while she first consults “key stakeholders on the detailed proposals for implementation articulated in draft statutory guidance” and then has “considered the responses to this consultation, alongside responses to the public consultation, before taking a final decision on whether to proceed with a policy of badger control”. See what I mean.

Personally, I can see all this dragging on far longer than that. But, even if it doesn’t, the actual killing will not be able to start for another year. And even that is being extremely bullish – for badger lovers will,as ministers admit, almost inevitably launch legal action, probably designed to bring about a judicial review. That is bound to delay things further and, ministers fear, could defeat the plan altogether.

Yet let’s suppose those hurdles are eventually cleared, and a cull does go ahead. It will still only be allowed in two pilot areas – assumed, but not confirmed, to be in Devon and Gloucestershire – which are to be “closely monitored to ensure that this method is both effective and humane”. Then the results of this will be “examined by a panel of independent experts who will advise the Secretary of State over whether further licenses should be issued”. There seem to be more potential exit points than on the M25.

And will it be effective and humane? It’s hard to see it. There is no reason not to kill badgers – they are not endangered and certainly harbour and pass on TB – except for these ones: but they are pretty formidable. Extensive culling trials showed that, at least initially, TB spreads as a result as disturbed, diseased badgers fled from the killing fields into uninfected areas.

This occurred when badgers were first trapped and then humanely despatched. But that is not what is being proposed. Farmers are going to be allowed, instead, to blaze away at free-running animals – something that would seem bound to increase disruption, and thus the spread of the disease. It is also likely to be far less effective and humane. At the sound of the first shot of any session, all the badgers in the area are likely to race down their sets and stay there. Even if they don’t, the low-slung animals are difficult to hit, especially at night when the shooting would take place. Plenty are bound to be wounded, allowing anti-cull campaigners to show harrowing footage of their suffering. And if a dog – or a person – were to be hit by accident, the outcry would surely halt the killing.

Even if everything works perfectly, scientists told the government, the incidence of TB in cattle would only be cut by 16 per cent, hardly a magnificent return for all the trouble. Add to that, the fact that cash-strapped dairy farmers will be forced to pay all the costs for a four-year cull up front, and it all begins to look decidedly unattractive.

It is hard to avoid the perhaps unworthy suspicion that the new announcement is merely a political ploy designed to bamboozle people into thinking the government is doing something, even if nothing much will result. Or that ministers secretly hope that no large-scale killing will be possible, allowing them to gain some credit with farmers without arising the ire of the badger-loving majority of Britons.



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