Nothing to stop Somerset badger cull pilot scheme now
Controversial West Country pilot badger culls to fight bovine TB are set to go ahead.
Pilot culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset, which will see the killing of 70 per cent of badgers in each area, have been authorised by Government agency Natural England after final licence conditions were met, with a third scheme in Dorset being prepared as a reserve to prevent any further delays.
The two pilot culls were delayed last year in the face of bad weather and the discovery that there were more badgers in the areas than previously estimated. More than 5,000 badgers could be culled during this year’s open season.
The news was given a warm welcome by West Country dairy farmers, but conservationists, including BBC’s Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, former Queen guitarist Brian May and the RSPCA have condemned the move. Labour is also opposed.
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Dr May, who has bought farmland in north Dorset to create nature reserves for his Save Me charity described the move as “an absolute tragedy.”
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gave the news in a written statement to Parliament, explaining that confirmation that final licence conditions have been met has cleared the way. Culls were postponed amid fears they could not be carried out effectively in autumn last year.
Mr Paterson said: “I know there is great strength of feeling on badger culling, but I also know that we need to take action now before the situation deteriorates even further. We need to tackle all transmission routes of TB using all available tools.”
Bovine TB costs Britain £100million a year and the culls of cattle and restrictions on cattle movements can ruin farming businesses, driving some otherwise successful farmers out of the industry.
But opponents say an independent study commissioned by the Government from experts in the field showed the cull will not work, and may do harm. Mr Paterson maintained that the policy is science-led. The cull is to control, not to exterminate the population in the areas.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “Despite overwhelming scientific, public and parliamentary opposition, the Government seems hell bent on pressing forward with their senseless plans to kill badgers.”
Chris Packham said: “I and the overwhelming percentage of conservationists concerned about the badger cull really do have the utmost sympathy for the farming fraternity, but I govern my life by fact. An independent study set up by the Government and paid for by you and me to the tune of £11million showed that a cull was an ineffective way of controlling TB in cattle. Some of the best scientists put their signatures to a letter saying it won’t work.”
Dr May said: “This hideous cull will cause unimaginable suffering to the badger community, and in ten years’ time the farming community will still be suffering.” He said that most farmers in the Dorset area think Sika deer are a more likely reservoir for TB.
But Trevor Cligg, deputy chair of Dorset NFU, said: “I am very pleased that Dorset is the reserve area as that could put it first in the roll-out of the cull. It is a misconception that most scientists are against the cull. In every other country in the world controlling TB in cattle has involved wildlife.”
He said badgers excrete far more TB bacilli than deer and are far more likely to be moving among cattle than deer. In West Somerset the maximum number of badgers that can be culled is 2,162. In West Gloucestershire the maximum is 2,932.