Badgers beware: the first fulll-scale cull of the animals across England could begin within days. On Channel 4 News, Queen guitarist Brian May debates the cull with a Gloucestershire farmer.
Natural England will issue the first of two licences today to cull badgers, in a move that could result in the shooting of up to 100,000 animals to protect cattle from bovine tuberculosis.
The government will release further details this afternoon, but the cull is expected to kill as many as one-third of England’s badger population.
The decision comes after a controversial court ruling last week
The licence will be issued to a group of farmers and landowners who will commit to killing at least 70 per cent of the badgers on their land for at least four years, the Guardian newspaper reported. Some 26,000 cows were slaughtered in 2011 because of the disease, which can also be carried by badgers.
Lawyers for the Badger Trust told Channel 4 News today they are reviewing last week’s court of appeal decision that cleared the way for the cull.
“We certainly don’t want to live with this. Heavens no,” Jack Reedy, spokesman for the Badger Trust, said, but he added that the trust would not resort to civil disobedience to stop the cull.
Instead, it plans to lobby government and make representations to scientific groups if they run out of legal options.
A governmental impact assessment found it would cost farmers more to carry out the cull than suffer losses from bovine TB.
The licence issued this afternoon is expected to be for a large pilot cull area in Gloucestershire. The badger licence will have “hard boundaries”, such as a body of water, to stop badgers from fleeing and spreading the disease. No badgers have yet been killed as part of the cull.
Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, has argued that the cull will cost more than it saves, put a huge strain on the police, and will spread bovine TB in the short term as badgers are disturbed by the shooting.
“Ministers should listen to the scientists and can this cull – which is bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife,” she said.
For its part, the government has pointed to the 16 per cent cut in bovine TB at the end of a 10-year trial. The new culls will not trap and shoot the badgers, however, instead they will be “free shot” by marksmen.
The deaths have to occur before 1 February, when the close season for badger shooting begins and runs until 31 May.
Culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are trials meant to test whether free shooting is as effective as trapping and shooting.
Brian Davies, founder of Network for Animals, accused the government of steam-rolling ahead with an inhumane and impractical approach of shooting badgers. Previous research by the Independent Scientific Group on bovine TB concluded killing badgers by “free shot” could increase the spread of the disease.
The “free shooting” method proposed by the government, which involves the shooting of badgers as they roam at night using high velocity rifles, will be reviewed after one year.
If it is deemed unsuccessful the cull will still need to continue for a further three years using a cage-trapping and shooting method.