POLLUTION : Yachtsman describes horror at ‘dead’, rubbish strewn Pacific Ocean

From the Guardian : An Australpacific garbageian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey from Australia to Japan.

Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.

“In 2003, I caught a fish every day,” he told Guardian Australia. “Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing. It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead.

“Normally when you are sailing a yacht, there are one or two pods of dolphins playing by the boat, or sharks, or turtles or whales. There are usually birds feeding by the boat. But there was none of that. I’ve been sailing for 35 years and it’s only when these things aren’t there that you notice them.

MacFadyen said that the lack of ocean life started at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, describing Queensland waters as “barren” and “unquestionably overfished”.

“We saw a boat come towards us and we thought they might be pirates, but they had bags and bags of fish,” he said. “We said ‘there’s only two of us, we can’t do anything with all that’ and they said ‘don’t worry, just throw it over the side’.

“There was around 100 large fish there. But it was valueless for them because they were after tuna and nothing else. They just trawled the whole ocean and everything other than tuna was bycatch.”

For the majority of the voyage to Japan, MacFadyen had to ensure that his yacht wasn’t holed by clumps of rubbish he said were “as large as a house”.

“There were fenders from ships, balls of net and telegraph poles with barnacles on them that were never going to sink,” he said. “There was nothing like that 10 years ago. I couldn’t believe it.

“We wouldn’t motor the boat at night due to the fear of something wrapping around the propeller. We’d only do that during the day with someone on lookout for garbage. When you stood on the deck and looked down you’d see the rubbish shimmering in the depths below, up to 20 metres under the water.

“We went onto the US and back again. We did 23,000 miles [37,000km] and I’d say 7,000 of those were in garbage. The boat is still damaged from it. We had to free the rudder of rubbish one night, which was scary. We were terrified of something ripping a hole in the boat.”

MacFadyen said that the trip had made him “very cranky” and has inspired him to encourage better monitoring of ocean rubbish to ensure governments’ anti-pollution policies are working.

“Humans are such a blight on the planet that we will just trash an area because it is out of sight most of the time,” he said. “It completely changed the way I look at things. I used to chuck rubbish away without thinking twice but there’s no way I will do that now.”

According to marine conservationists, overfishing is a global problem affecting nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries.

The problem has resulted on catch quotas being placed on many species of fish, although the exact extent of overfishing in Australia is slightly unclear.

Government fisheries data shows only bluefin tuna and the school shark are dangerously overfished in Australian waters. However, the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s guide to sustainable seafood places 26 species – including kingfish, snapper and tiger prawns – on a “red list” that should not be consumed due to their fragile status.

Pamela Allen, marine campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that there have been improvements in Australian fisheries in recent years but problems remain.

“The quota for bluefin tuna has just been increased by 10%, despite there being no evidence to justify this,” she said. “There are also issues in state fisheries — Queensland has no scientific observer system, for instance, and rely just on fishers’ logbooks for what they catch in sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“Trawling the ocean results in a high level of bycatch because it’s hard to be exact with what you’re catching when you’re dragging a gigantic net along the sea floor.

“People don’t realise that flake is shark and that sharks are threatened due to overfishing. There is no single sustainable source of shark in fisheries. Consumers have a choice every day to make a small difference.

“Fish is one of the last wild foods we eat, along with mushrooms, and we have to realise that once it has gone, it is gone. Governments and fishers are making some changes but they need to move more quickly or there won’t be any fish left.”

@NAEE_UK is concerned about the marine environment – and how badly we are treating it!

The problem with education? Children aren’t feral enough

belle outdoorsView larger picture

‘Instead of being encouraged to observe and explore and think and develop, children are being treated like geese in a foie gras farm.’ Illustration by Belle Mellor

George Monbiot writes in The Guardian What is the best way to knacker a child’s education? Force him or her to spend too long in the classroom. An overview of research into outdoor education by King’s College London found that children who spend time learning in natural environments “perform better in reading, mathematics, science and social studies”. Exploring the natural world “makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning”.

Fieldwork in the countryside, a British study finds, improves long-term memory. Dozens of papers report sharp improvements in attention when children are exposed to wildlife and the great outdoors. Teenage girls taken on a three-week canoeing trip in the United States remained, even 18 months later, more determined, more prepared to speak out and show leadership, and more inclined to challenge conventional notions of femininity.

A child holding some acornsA child from south-east London holding some acorns she found on a forest trail in Wales. Photograph: John RussellStudies of the programmes run by The Wilderness Foundation UK, which takes troubled teenagers into the mountains, found that their self-control, self-awareness and behaviour all improved. Ofsted, the schools inspection service, reports that getting children out of the classroom raises “standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour.”

Last week I saw the evidence myself. With the adventure learning charity WideHorizons, I spent two days taking a group of 10-year-olds from a deprived borough in London rockpooling, and roaming the woods in mid-Wales. Many had never been to the countryside before and had never seen the sea.

I was nervous before I met them. I feared that our differences might set us apart. I thought they might be bored and indifferent. But my fears evaporated as soon as we reached the rockpools.

Within a few minutes, I had them picking up crabs and poking anenomes. When I showed that they could eat live prawns out of the net they were horrified, but curiosity and bravado conquered disgust, and one after another they tried them. Raw prawns are as sweet as grapes: some of the children were soon shovelling them into their mouths. I don’t think there was anyone in the group who managed not to fall into the water. But no one complained.

In the woods the next day we paddled in a stream, rolled down a hill, ate blackberries, tasted mushrooms, had helicopter races with sycamore keys, explored an ant’s nest, broke sticks and collected acorns. Most had never done any of these things before, but they needed no encouragement: the exhilaration with which they explored the living world seemed instinctive. I realised just how little contact they’d had when I discovered that none of them had seen a nettle or knew what happens if you touch it.

But what hit me hardest was this. One boy stood out: he had remarkable powers of observation and intuition. When I mentioned this to his teacher, her reply astonished me: “I must tell him. It’s not something he will have heard before.” When a child as bright and engaged as this is struggling at school, the problem lies not with the child but with the education system. We foster and reward a narrow set of skills.

The governments of this country accept the case for outdoor learning. In 2006 the Departments for Children and Schools, Culture, and the Environment signed a manifesto which says the following: “We strongly support the educational case for learning outside the classroom. If all young people were given these opportunities we believe it would make a significant contribution to raising achievement.” In 2011 the current government published a white paper proposing “action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and increasing schools’ abilities to teach outdoors”.

So what happened? Massive cuts. The BBC reports that 95% of all outdoor education centres have had their entire local-authority funding cut. Instead of being encouraged to observe and explore and think and develop, children are being treated like geese in a foie gras farm. Confined to the classroom, stuffed with rules and facts, dragooned into endless tests: there could scarcely be a better formula for ensuring that they become bored and disaffected.

George Monbiot rockpooling with children from south-east londonGeorge Monbiot rockpooling with children from south-east London. Photograph: John RussellWhen children are demonised by the newspapers, they are often described as feral. But feral is what children should be: it means released from captivity or domestication. Those who live in crowded flats, surrounded by concrete, mown grass and other people’s property, cannot escape their captivity without breaking the law. Games and explorations that are seen as healthy in the countryside are criminalised in the cities. Children who have never visited the countryside – 50% in the UK, according to WideHorizons – live under constant restraint.

Why shouldn’t every child spend a week in the countryside every term? Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to develop the kind of skills the children I met were learning: rock climbing, gorge scrambling, caving, night walking, ropework and natural history? Getting wet and tired and filthy and cold, immersing yourself, metaphorically and literally, in the natural world: surely by these means you discover more about yourself and the world around you than you do during three months in a classroom. What kind of government would deprive children of this experience?

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com ; follow @NAEE_UK 

CLIMATE CHANGE : Big business funds effort to discredit science, warns UN official


From the Guardian

Big companies are paying contrarians to undermine the work of climate scientists, according to a top UN official speaking before the release of a landmark review of climate science this weekby international researchers next Friday. Halldór Thorgeirsson, a director who reports to the head of the UN body that governs the on-going high level international climate negotiations, said that scientists would need to be prepared for a counter-blast from sceptics.

“Vested interests are paying for the discrediting of scientists all the time. We need to be ready for that,” he said. His outspoken views will set the tone for a fractious meeting of the world’s leading climate scientists, kicking off on Monday in Stockholm, that will set out the evidence that the world’s governments use when formulating policies to deal with global warming for decades to come. More than 800 scientists have contributed to the report, the final details of which will be hammered out in a gruelling four-day session next week.

According to a draft of the “Summary for Policy Makers” dated June , seen by the Guardian– the most important part of the document – the scientists will argue that the evidence points to 95% certainty that climate change is occurring and is caused mainly by greenhouse gases released by humans – up from 90% certainty in the previous 2007 report. The 53 page document, seen by the Guardian which includes a note saying “do not cite, quote or distribute” says that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now greater than at any time in the last 800,000 years, based on ice cores and other evidence, and the incidences of extreme rainfall are increasing, with rainfall likely to increase in the north but to decrease in the subtropics.

The draft outlines evidence of “large-scale warming resulting primarily from anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations”. It says that if warming is to be limited to less than 2C in future, more than half of the carbon that can be emitted to hold to that goal has already been poured into the atmosphere.

The real impact of the report – the latest since 2007 and only the fifth such assessment since 1992 – will not be felt until governments meet this year in Poland to discuss a global response to warming, aiming to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The IPCC came in for severe criticism after a handful of flaws were found in its 2007 report, chiefly a mistake which suggested that most of the glaciers of the Himalayas could disappear by 2035. he error was seized by detractors, and led to the discovery of several other claims that were insufficiently backed by research.

The IPCC said it was unsurprising that a few mistakes had crept into what was than a thousand pages of dense scientific research. One of the crucial issues in the latest IPCC report is how sensitive the climate is to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Early leaked drafts of the summary suggest that the earth’s systems are extremely sensitive to greenhouse gases, and are likely to continue to rise as fossil fuels are burned at ever faster rates, but they also suggest that the lower end of estimates of future temperature rise will be reduced.

Formerly, the scientific consensus was that temperatures would rise by at least 2C, but in the new report this is likely to be reduced slightly to a 1.5C projected increase at the lowest end of the range. This slight reduction, which scientists stress does not reduce the known dangers of warming, such as more droughts and floods and fiercer storms, has been seized on by some climate sceptics, who see it as evidence that global warming will be less severe than thought.However, there are no certainties in the report as yet – though drafts have been seen by the Guardian.

The final assessment will be subject to the wranglings of climate scientists and government-appointed experts next week. Prof Nilay Shah, of Imperial College London, who compiled a recent report on how to reduce carbon emissions, compared the world’s lack of action on climate change to the complacency on safety procedures before the devastating fire at King’s Cross underground station in 1987, in which 31 people lost their lives. Before the fire, he pointed out, smoking was allowed on Underground stations, piles of flammable rubbish were allowed to accumulate, and many escalators were made of wood. After the dangers of these became apparent, the design of stations was improved to remove these hazards, but it took the disaster to stimulate change.Sceptics have been lining up to put forward their views that the IPCC’s fifth assessment report is flawed. Many of their arguments focus on the recent slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures, attributed by climate experts to the effects of the oceans in absorbing heat and the natural variability of the world’s climate systems.

However, scientists point out that ten of the warmest years in the temperature record have occurred in the past decade and a half. There have also been other strong indicators of climate change, including the shrinking of Arctic sea ice – which reached its lowest recorded extent last year and is also diminishing in volume – and the retreat of glaciers around the world. To those who are in disagreement with climate science, however – even though recent research has found that more than 90% of scientific studies support the finding that climate change is happening as a result of human actions – the remaining areas of uncertainty, such as the role of the oceans in absorbing heat and the role of clouds and human-made aerosols in deflecting the sun’s rays from the earth’s surface, are a cause to doubt more than a century of climate science.

Myron Ebell, director of the centre for energy and environment at the right-leaning US thinktank Competitive Enterprise Institute, and one of the US’s most prominent climate sceptics, told the Guardian: “The science contradicts the modellers’ dire predictions. The divergence between reality and model projections in the last two decades provides strong evidence that global warming, although it may become a problem some decades in the future, is not a crisis and is highly unlikely to become a crisis. We should be worried that the alarmist establishment continues using junk science to promote disastrous policies that will make the world much poorer and will consign poor people in poor countries to perpetual poverty.” The CEI has in the past received funding from Exxon Mobil, the oil company, and the American Petroleum Institute, Texaco, General Motors and the Koch Family Foundations, controlled by the Koch brothers who made their fortune from fossil fuels. Hot news

What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Set up in 1988, the IPCC is a UN body that evaluates the state of climate science. It produces major assessments every five to seven years – the last was published in Paris in 2007 and said scientists were 90% certain humans were responsible for the warming the planet was experiencing. The panel was awarded the Nobel peace prize in the same year, to be shared jointly with former US vice-president Al Gore. What is being published next week? The summary of the first part of the so-called fifth assessment report (AR5), which focuses on the scientific evidence behind climate change and man’s role in it.

The IPCC will meet in Stockholm to discuss the final draft which will be presented to governments and the public on Friday. Later parts of AR5, due in 2014, will report on the impacts of climate change, such as more extreme weather, how we can adapt to a warmer world, such as building flood defences and adapting farming practices, and “mitigation” – how greenhouse gas emissions can be cut.

Do these reports still matter?

Yes. The IPCC’s major assessments are extremely influential and widely read. But many people, including some of the scientists who put together the reports without pay, say that more targeted and more frequent reports would be more useful.

By Adam Vaughan of the Guardian

CULL : 24 hours following the cull in Somerset


“The idea is to make as much noise as possible so the badgers don’t come out.”

From The Guardian :  The latest on the cull – an exercise in ridiculousness – and people’s responses…



4pm “Camp Badger”, a small protest group set up near Watchet on the north Somerset coast, is peacefully evicted. “I feel disgusted. I’ve had six hours’ sleep in three nights. We feel hated and despised. We have been intimidated and followed wherever we go. It’s very secretive and furtive out there,” says Marie from Bristol.

7.45pm More than 60 people, aged between seven and 60, from the Somerset badger group meet at Williton. They wear high-visibility vests and split into three groups to spend the night patrolling woods and footpaths around Monksilver and Carhampton. Five other groups are going out farther south. “I have come from Reading. This is so awful. I cannot sit at home and do nothing. It’s senseless,” says Josie. “The idea is to make as much noise as possible so the badgers don’t come out.”

8pm Jess,from Tiverton, reports activity as night falls. “I met two friends and we drove to Stogumber. It was quiet, so we went on to Monksilver. They had shut off all the footpaths. There were security guards everywhere. I could see lights and hear dogs. One car had been converted to an ambulance.”

8.30pm Sixty-three marksmen, licensed and trained by Defra, have spread out over the 100-square-mile Somerset pilot cull area. They will work till around 3am in groups of three, with high velocity rifles, silencers and infrared sights and lamps. They are paid £10 for each badger killed and £20 for disposing of the bodies. One acts as as spotter, the others shoot. The cull is being conducted by a company of farmers over sparsely populated, heavily wooded countryside. They plan to kill nearly 70% of the badgers in the pilot area but the NFU admits it does not know how many are in the area.

9pm The RSPCA reports by phone that they have collected the body of a badger, which has reportedly been shot in its rear legs and may have been trying to escape the shooters.

9.35pm “It is like a military operation, very well organised. It is being done very quietly on big estates that the public do not have access to,” says Vanessa Mason, a volunteer Defra-trained vaccinator who has spent the morning trapping and vaccinating badgers for a landowner.

9.35pm Sue, Anne, Sally, Kath, Caleb and eight others from Reading and elsewhere walk up Withycombe hill where they have been tipped off by the police that the shooters will be. “We are just doing our bit. We’re peaceful. It’s shrouded in secrecy,” says Lynne, from Bath.

9.45pm Rupert Dod, the Exmoor cattle farmer in charge of the Somerset cull, has refused to say anything in public. But the landlord of the Rest and be Thankful pub at Wheddon’s Cross, his local, dials his home telephone for the Guardian.

“Rupert, can you tell us how the cull is going?”

“Who is that?”

“The Guardian.”

“What the? No comment. Talk to the NFU. I am not speaking to you. I have nothing to say.”

“But this is costing £500,000. The public has a right to know.”

“No. No comment.” [Puts phone down] The Guardian is asked to leave.

10pm Two groups of monitors independently report hearing shots and seeing spotlights in woods near Monksilver. “Several groups of marksmen appear to be shooting in privately owned fields at night where public access is limited. One man tells us he has seen a loose dog running in the light of a spotlight down a hedgerow. Two people standing at a road junction say they heard shots fairly close by followed by a short pause, followed by four shots in quick succession, the sound of excited dogs barking, then shouts and spotlights,” says Frances, a former TV producer who is out with one group.

10.30pm Raleghs Cross Inn on Exmoor. Five hunt saboteurs, from Bristol and elsewhere, dressed in black, emerge from a wood. “We know where all the setts are. We’ve done the surveys. Now we are looking for observation points. We use old Sony cameras. If you take the UV filter off you can see the infrared that the shooters use. [Sabs] are turning up from all over and there will be many more coming at weekends. We have broken up the cull zone into smaller areas. Different areas have taken different patches. This is London and Brighton, Bristol is another,” says John.

10.50pm A police officer in an unmarked car tells the Guardian: “We’re from Bristol. We have been drafted in. We don’t know what’s going on ourselves. I haven’t seen any shooters.”

11.20pm Saboteur group reports “crack, crack, crack, every five seconds” from woods near Stogumber.


1am “We were forced to move on by security guards,” says Jess. “Then a white 4×4 followed us. We were told it’s kicking off near Dunster with lots of shooting going on. We got penned in to a hedge by guys in a 4×4 following us for 10 mins. ‘You should not be around here,’ they said menacingly. Then we were stopped by the police and detained for an hour. But we are entirely legal and have not been been off the footpaths.”

1am Amanda, from Bristol: “A saloon car drives past, slows down to look at us – goes a little way up, turned, then accelerates towards us. The driver shouts ‘why don’t you go home, you fucking weirdos.’ Later, a young woman driver leans out of a car and says to a young girl and her mother: ‘C U on Tuesday.’ The 15-year-old knows it means cunt. Who’s intimidating who? How divisive is this policy? It’s polarising communities, escalating tension, there’s an appalling lack of transparency … whose wildlife is it?”

1am Shooting with high velocity and silenced rifles going on in the woods near Treborough.

2.30am A group of four Somerset protesters reports hearing shots followed by dogs barking and “a badger screaming” in woods close to Stogumber. They report the incident to the police and to Natural England. “This is worrying because dogs are not allowed to be used,” says Clare from the Somerset badger group.

2.45am “Where are the official cull monitors? Who can say what is going on? This is like a warzone. It’s a witch-hunt against badgers,” says Jill, from Bristol

3am Monksilver badger group reports “reckless and dangerous driving” of a tractor seen tailgating a small white hatchback along a narrow, steep lane. “It was careering down the lane after it, headlights flashing, horn hooting, hazard lights flashing, it caught up with the car and tail-gated it out of view. It appeared as if it was trying to ram the car,” says Amanda.

3am Hunt sabs report: “One of our vehicles was rammed by very irate cullers in a 4×4 down a farm drive They torrented our guys with abuse and drove off. Police were informed and a crime number obtained.”

2.30pm NFU: “We have no comment to make on the cull.”

4pm Ranald Monro, chair of Defra’s independent expert panel of monitors declines to comment. “It would be inappropriate. It may be appropriate when the pilot [culls] are completed and the independent expert panel has had the opportunity to consider the results. Perhaps Defra can be of assistance to you?”

4.45pm Defra: “You need to speak to the NFU.”

4.30pm James Small, Somerset livestock farmer: “Passions are running high on all sides. Results will be made available at the end of the cull. Operationally, I don’t know how it is going.”

Debating ‘Badgers are killable as well as cute’…. OR ‘How Ms Kite, a cull supporter, got it SO wrong?’


Melissa Kite of the Guardian tries to defend the Cull – my comments alongside   

Dear Reader 

I stand by my personal conviction that the badger cull is wrong…. As a geographer and amateur naturalist, I see no evidence for it 

Henricus Peters @LearnFromNature

During the last bovine tuberculosis crisis in May 2004, without realising what was to hit me, I blithely wrote an article about the need to cull badgers. Headlined “TB or not TB” (you see what they were doing there), the piece outlined the scientific evidence, of which there was plenty, in favour of culling to stop the spread of disease in cattle, and wondered at the strangely intense political battle that was raging about it then – as it is again now.

The next decade saw my inbox clogged up with frantic emails from those I came to half-endearingly call “the badger people”, although nothing from the guitarist Brian May, which was a shame, as I’m a huge Queen fan. They quoted endless counter-facts and figures showing that a cull would not help farmers control TB in their herds at all.

I suppose I am about to get, if you will pardon another pun, even more badgered now (come on, Brian, just one letter, for the scrapbook). But I am defending the pilot cull beginning this week because an important principle is at stake. As that strange creature, the English anthropomorph, comes blinking into the light to defend badgers, I am ready and willing, in the name of man’s right to order the natural world, to try to shoot the poor thing down. Wow, she uses pure emotion!!

I don’t want to rehearse the figures on whether a cull will work or not work. I agree not to quote the scientific studies of professors Krebs and Godfray, if the badger people promise not to send me any more trials they’ve conducted in their back gardens showing uncontrolled badgers do not spread disease.

What I want to explore now is the question of why so many badger lovers are determined to stop the killing of one species while sanctioning all-out slaughter on others. The Brits, you see, are singularly guilty of hypocrisy in the matter of which animals they are prepared to kill for expediency and which they are not. Why blame innocent and beautiful creatures for the problem – the link between badgers and bovine TB is definitely NOT proven! 

While French people are honest enough to munch on a slice of horsemeat as happily as they might chew cow, and while some Asian nations will throw a dog in a stew, we prefer to order our animals into appallingly dishonest league tables of “killable” and “cute”. Yes, Asians (especially Chinese) sometimes eat dog and some Japanese can eat dolphins – just as Aussies eat kangaroo and Crocodile – but that does not make it right!   

The majority of town dwellers, and militant wildlife campaigners in particular, are at best confused, at worst in total denial on the subject of what we kill, why and how. Really? Now, Ms Kite is being patronising! 

They are prepared for cows, chickens, sheep and pigs to be bred and slaughtered behind closed doors for their pleasure (let’s face it, only those who do hard physical work need to eat meat every day, but in reality people do it because they like the taste).  Making huge sweeping generalisations about those that prefer to eat meat!

But they will not sanction the killing of an animal that has natty black and white stripes even if its killing is needed to ensure the production of the food they enjoy. Where has Ms Kite’s logic??

Once their meat is shrink-wrapped and in a shop at a price they can afford, they don’t want to think about the fact that a) it was once alive and had to be rendered un-alive, and b) it couldn’t be produced at all were not certain pests dealt with on farms. Free-range chickens? “Yes please!” Controlling the foxes who rip said chickens to pieces? “Oh dear. Let’s see. Can we not just ask the foxes not to maul the chickens?”

Aside from vegans – who at least show some consistency – most “animal lovers” salve their conscience by buying a few pints of organic milk a week without really understanding what organic farming means (it means no antibiotics, for instance, so a cow with mastitis might suffer more). Again, more generalisations!

By and large, they want farmers to produce their food quietly and without fuss, so it doesn’t upset them. And they absolutely forbid them, while raising cattle for slaughter, to harm creatures they deem cuddly. For the record, badgers are not cuddly. Badger lovers are aware of this – but this does NOT justify the cull! If you cuddled one you would find out they have a bite stronger than any dog. As a fan, I really do urge Brian May not to let his fingers near one.

The naivety of those who think them cuddly is astonishing. Again – we know!!I picked up an anti-cull leaflet the other day and it was like something a five-year-old child had produced. “A walk in the woods will never be the same again,” it said, above a picture of a mummy, daddy and two children happily kicking up fallen leaves in a forest. In front of them, in broad daylight, was a badger. Bad leaflet!

Er, hello? Have the authors not been informed that badgers come out at night? If every single badger was eradicated tomorrow, your walk in the woods would be exactly the same – which is to say, devoid of badger sightings. Or perhaps you walk after sundown? In which case, even after the planned pilot cull of 5,000 badgers, there will still be so many of them as to make absolutely no difference to the numbers you spot when you are rambling in the dark with a torch, if that is your thing.

A more pertinent leaflet would picture the English countryside devoid of cows, the result of allowing bovine TB to spread. Sadly, only when there is no more organic, farm-assured British beef in shrink-wrap will the badger people concede defeat.

• This article was amended on 29 August 2013. An earlier version said “I don’t want to rehearse the figures proving a cull will work.” The latter part of that sentence has been amended to clarify that it was not the writer’s intention to suggest that the figures incontrovertibly prove that a cull will work, or that both of the subsequently named professors (Krebs and Godfray) support a cull, but to state her intention not to get involved in discussing the evidence about the efficacy of badger culls, which is hotly disputed.

CULL : ‘It must okay’ … if environment secretary defends it!


Two pilot culls to kill up to 5,000 badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset have begun.

The cull, which the Guardian revealed last week would start on Monday night and the National Farmers Union has confirmed is under way, is designed to test whether badgers can be killed in a safe, humane and effective way. Farmers and the government say the cull is necessary to combat bovine tuberculosis, which led to 37,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2012, at a cost of £100m in compensation from the taxpayer.

Free-running badgers will be shot by licensed marksmen, rather than being trapped and killed, which is a more expensive option.

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, said on Tuesday that a cull was necessary because a badger vaccine – advocated by opponents of the cull – would not treat badgers that already carried the disease.

“We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won’t get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle. That’s the clear lesson from Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.

“That is why these pilot culls are so important. We have to use every tool in the box because TB is so difficult to eradicate and it is spreading rapidly.”

He continued: “If we had a workable vaccine we would use it. A badger vaccine would have no effect on the high proportion of sick badgers in TB hotspots who would continue to spread the disease. We are working on new badger and cattle vaccines but they are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while TB gets worse.”

Anti-cull protesters attend a vigil in Minehead, SomersetAnti-cull protesters attend a vigil in Minehead, Somerset. Photograph: REX/Simon Chapman/LNP/Rex Features

Campaigners said the start of the cull marked a “dark day” for the UK. Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director for the Humane Society International/UK, said: “We are appalled to learn that the mass shooting of badgers has begun in our countryside. This is a dark day for Britain as science and ethics have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. Thousands of innocent badgers will now suffer and die in a completely unjustified slaughter that will at best have a marginal impact on TB in cattle and could very well make the problem worse.”

By Tuesday morning, over a quarter of a million people had signed a petition calling on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to cancel the cull and focus on vaccination and better biosecurity. Jay Tiernan, the man behind the Stop the Cull campaign, was arrested on Monday for trespassing at a Defra site in Gloucestershire. Protesters have said they will do their best to disrupt the cull, which will see a police operation dubbed Operation Themisworking to ensure public safety.

Many local residents in the cull-zone oppose the action and are doing all they can to help the animals survive. Yet most farmers believe a cull is the only way to safeguard their livelihoods. Patrick Barkham reports Link to video: Badger cull divides communities in west Somerset

Scientists including Lord Krebs, the head of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007, have called the cull “mindless” and said: “The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.”

But in a letter to his members, the NFU president, Peter Kendall, wrote on Tuesday: “We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of TB while knowing the disease exists in wildlifeuncontrolled. It is why the NFU will be working with the pilot companies to ensure the successful delivery of these pilot culls over the coming weeks.

“Badger control remains a controversial subject and we understand that some people will never agree with controlling badgers in this way.

“I am confident however that through the combined efforts of farmers, the NFU and government over the last year to illustrate the impact TB has on farms, and the scientific basis for badger control, more people than ever recognise the need to address the disease in badgers.”

The pilot culls were originally intended to begin last autumn but were postponed in October on the grounds that there had not been enough time to prepare for it because of a rainy summer, policing and the Olympics, and legal challenges to the cull.

‘Propaganda’ war against RSPCA on eve of badger cull


From The Guardian: Rock star Brian May, a vice-president of the RSPCA, has accused the government of being involved in a campaign to discredit animal welfare organisations as part of an increasingly rancorous war of words ahead of this week’s badger cull.

Speaking before the expected start of the cull tomorrow, the Queen guitarist accused officials of utilising vested interests and elements of the media to espouse “propaganda” supporting the controversial scheme.

May, 66, said that Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity was under concerted pressure from critics who had not forgiven it for its role in the successful campaign to outlaw fox-hunting.

“The current campaign against the RSPCA is scandalous, completely manufactured by those who condone bloodsports and cannot abide the RSPCA and all other animal charities bringing fox-hunters to justice,” he said. “This is all about money and power, vested interests, undercover deals and votes.”

The latest developments emerge as animal rights charities are accused of becoming more militant and follow the row over an RSPCA decision to prosecute David Cameron’s local hunt, drawing claims from MPs that it was using prosecutions for political purposes.

Stoking the debate are reports that the Charity Commission is considering enforcement action against the RSPCA over the tone of its badger campaign. An advertisement from the charity, headlined “Vaccinate or exterminate?” alongside a picture of a bullet aimed at a badger prompted 118 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The actual cull is expected to start on Monday evening in the west Somerset and west Gloucestershire pilot zones, though the timing has not been officially confirmed. The pilot will run over six weeks, during which more than 5,000 badgers could be killed as part of a controversial programme to reduce the spread of tuberculosis to cattle. May said members of the public had confirmed they will turn up to register their opposition. An online petition begun by the musician calling for an end to the cull has so far attracted 263,000 names.

On Thursday, the National Farmers’ Union won a high court injunction restricting people from protesting against the cull after some members said they had been intimidated and needed protection. However, lawful protest will still be allowed.

“We will fight peacefully and decently, even if the other side is behaving despicably,” May said. “Many people say they will be walking their dogs nearby on Monday night and afterwards.”

He also claimed that many MPs and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were finding it problematic to support the ban: “The evidence is that many Tory MPs are finding it increasingly hard to keep supporting the party line on the cullwhen their constituents are urging them not to. Sadly, it’s clear that many of the honest Defra workers are embarrassed by it.”

May also urged the NFU, which has accused the RSPCA of aggressive lobbying, to condemn farmers who have hassled animal rights supporters. “Nevertheless, it’s apparent that there have actually been threats made on both sides. We need the NFU to acknowledge that there has been huge aggression from their side towards those who, peacefully, oppose the cull. Of course, most of the media report only one side of the problem, painting a false picture of irresponsibility of those who oppose this deeply violent act,” he added.

Supporters claim that culling badgers is the only way to tackle TB in cattle, which they say is spread from infected badgers to livestock. Rates of TB in cattle have risen significantly in recent years, with 28,000 cattle slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers. However, opponents say culling is inhumane and ineffective in controlling the disease.

But May, whose group, Save Me, founded in 2010, campaigns for the protection of animals against cruel treatment, said: “Just as justice had to be fought for in the case of the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and the outlawing of all kinds of despicable practices justified by tradition and ignorance, the rights of all sentient creatures to decent treatment have to be fought for.”

Defra says that the cull is important to help control a disease which is devastating the farming industry, and it rejects any claim that it is involved in any attempt to discredit its opponents.


■ Badgers will be shot in the wild instead of being trapped before culling.


■ Pilot culls will see the killing of 70% of badgers in each area, which could mean the culling of 5,000 animals.


■ The government spent £90m on TB control in England during 2010-11, including £6.9m on research and development.


■ Surveys in the 1980s and 1990s suggested there are between 250,000 and 300,000 badgers in Britain.


■ Defra estimates that the cull – across a 150km2 area during the summer for the next four years – will lead to a 16% cut in bovine TB.

@NAEE_UK believes all wildlife is precious