What next for badgers?

Following the news that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has decided not to widen the badger cull beyond its current West Country range, does this mean culling badgers is over? And how does the Government now plan to tackle TB in cattle?

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Following the news that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has decided not to widen the badger cull beyond its current West Country range, does this mean culling badgers is over? And how does the Government now plan to tackle TB in cattle?

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In answer to the first point, Paterson has confirmed that the cull will continue in Gloucestershire and Somerset, despite the Independent Expert Panel declaring that the cull failed its own humaneness test earlier in the year.

In an interview with Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4 on 3 April 2014, Owen Paterson was consistently asked to defend the humaneness of the cull. He said, “These were pilots to establish the technique of free shooting. The cull companies themselves learnt obvious practical and the independent panel report has given us some clear recommendations on how we could improve on humaneness and on effectiveness.”

He added, “You are talking about shooting a wild animal, in difficult, rugged countryside, in the night, in difficult weather and perfection, sadly, is impossible.”

In an interview that will be broadcast in this Sunday’s edition of Countryfile, Princess Anne suggests that gassing badgers could be the most humane and effective way of carrying out a cull.

That was a technique employed in the 1970s but it has drawn criticism from experts. Dr Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London was a member of the team that designed and oversaw the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which ran from 1997 to 2003. She told the Telegraph, “If you go back to reports at the time they are full of frustration about how it just wasn’t very effective.

“Setts would be gassed and then opened up again by the badgers again and again and again, and the problem seemed to be that badger setts are built to hold warm air in and keep cold draughts out so it’s very difficult to achieve lethal concentrations of gas and some lethal concentrations of gas are inhumane. That’s why ministers banned gassing in 1982.”

NFU President Meurig Raymond said in a statement, “As pilots, there was always going to be the potential to make improvements as a result of knowledge gained. After all that is what pilots are for. They have helped to gain a greater understanding of how we can tackle the wildlife element of this terrible disease cycle.

“Importantly, the Independent Expert Panel has found this method of culling badgers by controlled shooting can be safe with best practice followed, even with the presence of protestors. And we do have to remember that some of these protestors carried out a sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment and were, in some cases, aggressive and completely irresponsible.” 

Raymond continued, “TB remains a terrible disease for cattle and cattle farmers where it is persistent and high. Statistics released by Defra show there were 4,815 new herds infected with TB in 2013 in Great Britain, with 32,620 cattle slaughtered in an attempt to control the disease. As today’s strategy sets out, it is hugely important that any cattle controls go hand in hand with measures to tackle the disease in badgers. And culling must play a part in that where TB is rife.”

In a statement to the House of Commons, Owen Paterson – who is now proposing a course of vaccinations for badgers in areas bordering TB contamination – said, “We have always been clear that there would be lessons to be learnt from the first year of these four-year culls.

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“If we do not control TB, the bill will rise to £1bn over the next decade. It is vital that farmers, vets, non-government organisations and politicians work together to free England of TB.”