Lorraine Platt is the founder of Blue Badger.
It is undeniable that the badger cull has been a disaster. During your first Defra Question & Answer session you stated that you would ask Natural England to look at ways the badger cull is going and its future even though the Chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee, Professor David McDonald, branded the badger cull in July as an “epic failure’ .
Tim Coulson, Professor of Zoology at Oxford University and one of the experts on the Independent Panel Expert report criticised the cull as ineffective. The long list of eminent scientists speaking out against the dismal cull is doing incalculable damage to the reputation of the government by not listening to scientific evidence against culling badgers.
Government claims that badger culling is needed to tackle tuberculosis in cattle based on successes in other countries are “seriously flawed”, a group of 19 vets has said in a letter to the Veterinary Record, saying that very few countries had needed to kill wildlife as part of TB control programmes. In New Zealand, brush tail possums have been targeted to tackle TB, but the species is not a native breed, has caused significant problems for other wildlife and has very different habits and social structure to badgers, the vets said. They added that the efficacy of “indiscriminate” culling of badgers to control TB in cattle was not supported by scientific evidence
National newspapers reported this summer that despite public protests, a total of 924 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire last autumn and a further 955 in Somerset, costing taxpayers almost £8 million. Furthermore that just four of the nearly 2,000 badgers killed during the controversial government cull were tested for disease, with only one of those animals being found to have TB.
New revelations from a whistleblowing cull supervisor published in the Sunday Times on the 10th August show “the utter chaos” of last year’s cull and warned of a repeat in the second cull this summer. The cull supervisor says badger cullers pursued badgers with loaded weapons on both private and public land outside licensed areas. He even found himself on a golf course for an hour with a shooting contractor and said that it was ‘bonkers.’ He also said that a married contractor had collected large amounts of badger hair samples (used to estimate the population in an area) from one site but claimed it had come from different places so he could spend time with a woman he had met on the Internet. The monitor said that he was not the only one and that the results of the survey were completely unreliable.
Meanwhile, it has been widely reported that Welsh Bovine TB figures have fallen again. Wales has a policy of not culling badgers. Instead, it operates a programme of vaccination for badgers and annual cattle testing. The Welsh Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop identified the re-introduction of annual cattle testing as the cornerstone of Wales’ TB eradication programme, where focused bio-security measures are resulting in dramatic drops in TB in cattle. The Welsh government website includes news that the Welsh Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Rebecca Evans, recently wrote to you asking you to consider removing the current exemption for pre-movement testing for cattle tested every three to four years. Many Welsh Farmers have made it clear to the Deputy Minister that they are only interested in buying cattle from England that have been pre-movement tested. All herds in Wales are subject to an annual Bovine TB test
We need to focus more fully on bio-security measures and the development of modern cattle vaccines to deliver effective protection against TB for Farmers and batten down further on cattle testing and movements.
In a recent publication in the journal Nature, modelling by researchers from the University of Warwick demonstrates that the focus on badger control is misplaced and that control of bovine tuberculosis in cattle will only be achieved by focusing instead on cattle-based measures.
Minister, isn’t now the time to cancel the needless practice of culling a protected species? It is clearly open to accusations of being absurd, given the crushing scientific evidence against it.