Gassing a better way of controlling badgers
I was rather sad to see David Heath shuffled off the government benches because for once we had a locally-based farming minister who knew the area well and was more than familiar with all the issues which beset us these days.
The fact that we now have two other West Country MPs occupying junior ministerial posts at Defra is, however, relatively good news because at least they know what makes the West Country tick, they recognise the importance of farming to the entire rural economy and they are equally aware of how vulnerable the industry is to the weather, market fluctuations, disease and the activities of civil servants.
Speaking of which it's time for the new team to really get to grips with the issue of the Environment Agency, which as far as I can see is now indulging in highway robbery – pocketing huge sums by way of levies from the internal drainage boards and not only refusing to carry out any river dredging but actually declining to say how the money is being spent.
This is an absolute disgrace and when you look back and think that the rivers were never better-maintained than when farmers did the job themselves – which is now what is being proposed once more – then the entire Environment Agency has clearly been an enormous waste of time and money. All it has done is to create a new, obstructive layer of bureaucracy to get in the way of farmers and everyone else in the countryside and build a series of very expensive office blocks. The benefits it has brought? Absolutely none.
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I was very glad to see the Government suggesting a trial of gassing as a way of controlling badger numbers because I have always believed free shooting to be one of the least effective methods.
Owen Paterson deserves the thanks and congratulations of all farmers for having the determination and the tenacity to tackle head-on a crisis which Labour swept under the carpet for 13 years.
We have the expertise to identify setts which are most likely to be infected so that the culling can be precisely targeted and I have no doubt that despite the fact that "gassing" is a highly emotive word the public would prefer to know that TB-infected badgers are being dealt with peacefully and painlessly with none of the risks associated with shooting.
Of course we are still going to have the likes of Brian May and Pauline Kidner shouting the odds and condemning anyone who harms a single hair of a single badger's head but they are among those who still refuse to acknowledge the fact that badgers are wiping out the hedgehog population and threatening the recovery of ground-nesting birds on the Somerset Levels by eating eggs and chicks. They seem content to allow a massive reservoir of TB to remain in the wildlife which they purport to care so deeply about.
As a former dairy farmer you might have though Mrs Kidner would also have had some sympathy for farmers whose herds are struck down with TB, with all the consequent stress and financial loss that involves. Does she not care about the suicides that can be attributed directly to the arrival of TB on a farm and the consequent wiping out of a lifetime's work?
As for Ed Miliband promising to halt the culling if Labour get back in and to hang on for a proper vaccine to be developed, I'm glad he has got the time for that to happen. British livestock farmers certainly haven't.