The government says that despite ‘great strength of feeling’, trials will take place. A campaigner tells Channel 4 News: “People are emotive about it. It’s fox hunting times five.”
A cull of badgers will go ahead as part of efforts to tackle bovine TB in cattle, despite a highly charged campaign by conservationists, scientists and some MPs. Those opposing the cull say it won’t work.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Minister, announced on Wednesday that there will be two six week trials next year, in different parts of England. A panel of experts will then decide whether to roll the cull out more widely, with the possibility of up to ten licences being granted to farmers and landowners each year.
She told the commons: “I know there is great strength of feeling on this issue but I also know that we need to take action now before the TB situation deteriorates even further. I am acutely aware that many people are opposed to the culling of badgers and I wish that there was a current satisfactory alternative.”
Animal welfare groups say they will continue their campaign against the cull. The RSPCA said the government was “more interested in killing badgers than vaccinating them.”
Trapping and shooting badgers was considered but deemed too expensive so ministers have decided to license trained deer-stalkers to carry out the culling.
Ms Spelman said that the west and south-west of England were the worst areas affected by TB, with up to 23 per cent of cattle farms there unable to move their livestock because of fear of infection. Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year because of bovine TB. Ms Spellman said the cost to the taxpayer will reach £1bn over the next ten years.
Marina Pacheco of the Mammal Society, told Channel 4 News: “There was a huge trial carried out that worked out that they would get at best a 16% decrease in TB if there was a rigorous cull for about 5-7 years and that just isn’t enough. People are very emotive about it -what will this do to rural communities? Neighbour will be against neighbour and it’s going to be very divisive. It’s fox hunting times five.”
“They will leave a tiny pool of badgers and in some areas, no badgers at all” Marina Pacheco, the Mammal Society
She said badgers need to be protected: “They are part of our native fauna and you would have to have a really good reason to think about culling to the point of extermination any species. There is no point having a cull in an area without aiming to take out as many badgers as you can. They will leave a tiny pool of badgers and in some areas, no badgers at all.”
The plans were questioned by the Shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Mary Creagh who said: “The cull will cost farmers more than it saves them and will spread bovine TB in the short term as badgers move out of cull areas. Today’s announcement is bad news for wildlife, bad news for farmers and bad news for the taxpayer.”
But Ms Spelman cited a report by the Farm Crisis Network that found “panic, stress and emotional devastation for farmers and their families when they sent cattle to slaughter.
“This terrible disease is getting worse and we have got to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities. No country in the world that has TB in its wildlife has been able to eradicate it in cattle without addressing it in the wildlife population.”