Holding fire on cull could see rise in TB
I cannot ignore the agricultural topic of the week which has dominated even national headlines – the decision to postpone the planned badger cull in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset until next year.
The reason for the postponement is that the NFU, which has been organising the cull, decided it would not be possible to cull the required 70 per cent of the population within the cull areas in the short time left available this year before the "closed period" starts when badgers are not allowed to be culled while they may have young underground.
The reason for this change is that it was discovered there were twice the number of badgers in the cull areas than had been anticipated.
There has obviously been a massive reaction to this announcement with many farmers dismayed, badger supporters pleased, MPs voting against the cull in Parliament last Thursday and the NFU maintaining their position that the cull will go ahead next year.
However, amongst all this hullabaloo I have heard no one mention the first thing that came in to my mind which was whether the much higher density of badgers is itself one of the reasons that the disease is such a problem in these areas.
I remember when I studied population dynamics as part of a Zoology degree over 20 years ago, there were many examples of diseases becoming limiting factors in the growth of populations.
These density dependent factors are common and I just wondered whether TB is perhaps one of those diseases which may be becoming more and more prevalent in the badger population as it grows.
It is clear the population has increased dramatically since badgers became protected under the Badger Act 1992 but because the last national population survey took place as long ago as the late 1990s, no one has a clear idea as to the current size of the UK badger population.
Anecdotal evidence suggests badger numbers have continued to increase since the 1990s and the latest information gathered in relation to the proposed cull areas seems to support this but the size of the population found appears to have taken everyone by surprise.
So I have to question whether the continued legal protection of badgers, irrespective of the TB question is either necessary or justified.
Why it is legal to kill a fox or a deer but not a badger?
Culling of deer is well recognised as an important management tool to keep the population healthy and I have to ask whether the same principle may apply to badgers?
I appreciate such thinking is politically unacceptable but is there any point at which the badger population will ever be considered too high or is the badger to receive legal protection forever no matter how large its population becomes?