Badger culls: this is only the end of the beginning
David Cameron could not have been clearer; Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has been adamant from the start; even Somerset's own Liberal Democrat Farming Minister David Heath was resolute – a controlled cull of badgers must be part of the effort to bring bovine TB under control.
So it seems highly unlikely, despite the efforts of the anti-cull protesters, that the end of the pilot cull in Somerset on Monday will mark any kind of conclusion to the cull programme overall. What we have seen over the past six weeks, is just the start.
It is generally easy to discern when politicians are preparing to drop a policy like a hot potato or perform a U-turn that would be the envy of a boy racer. No such signs have been forthcoming from the coalition Government, so far as the badger cull is concerned. Of course the cull in Somerset, which has just hours to run, and the one in Gloucestershire which still has a week to go, are pilots, designed to test whether it is possible to shoot badgers with rifles – at night and in the wild – humanely.
But like courtroom lawyers who are trained to ask only questions to which they already know the answers, no politician embarks on a high-profile "pilot" such as the badger cull without having a pretty good idea of the results.
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There have been reports – and from robust sources – that the marksmen were failing to kill the number of badgers originally estimated. We ought to learn, in the next few days, the true number culled. But suggestions this week from Devon farmer Richard Haddock, chairman of the Conservative Rural Advisory Group and a regular contributor to these columns, that the numbers are now "irrelevant" tells its own story.
This is not a policy that is likely to be de-railed because circumstances, perhaps including the work of the anti-cull saboteurs, made it difficult to kill as many badgers as had been predicted.
Few farmers, indeed few countrymen and women in any profession, take any pleasure from the badger cull. Most in bTB hotspot areas across the West Country will be bracing themselves now it seems likely that at least ten more culls will be rolled out.
But they will also be grateful for the fact that this Government, unlike its predecessor, has been prepared to take difficult decisions for what everyone hopes will be a long-term gain and the eventual eradication of bovine TB.
There will be lessons from the pilot culls but it is almost inconceivable that they are over.