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Outrage as Owen Paterson declares war on the badgers – ‘hard culling for 25 years’

Badgers will be intensely culled for 25 years to battle bovine TB (bTB), Environment Secretary Owen Patterson has told the Sunday Times.

In a frank interview, he said that if the two trials this summer were successful, then 40 more cull zones would be created over the next four years.

Animal welfare organisations have reacted with fury, as Mr Paterson’s justification for the culling was dismissed by leading bTB scientist Lord Krebs, who said “If politicians are trying to say that the science supports what they are doing when it doesn’t, then that is unacceptable.” The government is using Lord Krebs’ own badger cull trial to justify their policy, even though the report summarised  that culling can make no meaningful contribution to bTB control.

Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild, said:

“This is devastating, deeply disturbing and dangerous. Will he not be happy until every last living creature outside of a farmyard is dead?

“Given the weight of public opinion against the cull, and the flawed science used to justify it, Patterson’s announcement today that he wants to kill up to 100,000 badgers, massively extend the cull zones and commit to 25 years hard culling is at best arrogant and at worst foolhardy. If Paterson really wants to get the incidence of disease down to 0.2%, he should focus his effort on vaccinations and better bio-security, rather than pandering to the demands of the NFU and chasing some political ambition.

“The badger cull has no scientific, economic or animal welfare justification. The government and the NFU are blindly embarking on one of the worst agricultural policies of the past 30 years, which will lead to senseless slaughter, chaos and disruption in the countryside, huge cost to the taxpayer and no meaningful reduction in the spread of bovine TB.

“It will drive a wedge between the public and the farming community and destroy the hard earned reputation of farmers as guardians and stewards of the countryside.”

As Care for the Wild revealed last week after Defra’s badger-cull briefing, the true cause of the bTB outbreak was shown to be the influx and movement of untested cattle used to restock herds after the foot & mouth epidemic at the turn of the century.

Figures show that incidences of bTB soared in 2000/2001, in certain areas. This correlates almost exactly with the relaxation of movement controls after the epidemic, which saw large numbers of herds restocked from the UK and across Europe.

Philip Mansbridge said: “The government claim to be doing this for farmers, but if they really wanted to help the farmers, they’d be focussing on getting bTB testing, biosecurity and husbandry techniques sorted out, and they’d be focussing on the actual long-term solutions like vaccination. If farming is in dire straits now, it’s because governments haven’t put the resources into the right places over the last few years – it’s not because of the badgers.

Defra’s briefing also confirmed that in some areas, those culling the badgers could choose to trap-and-shoot, rather than free-shoot. But this also makes no sense, says Philip Mansbridge.

“If they’re switching to trapping and shooting, they might as well take the obvious next step and switch to trapping and vaccinating. The government’s own figures show that trapping and shooting is actually more expensive than trapping and vaccinating. Plus, their own research shows that vaccination can halve incidents of bTB in badgers. How much more evidence do they need?

“Bottom line, if you’re going to catch the badgers, then why not vaccinate? Scientifically it makes sense, morally it makes sense. And if the government claims that they’re not in a position to effectively vaccinate yet, that’s because when they got in they scrapped five out of six vaccination research projects. Being obsessed with culling, for political reasons, is a no-win policy which will end with both the badgers and the farmers losing out big time.”

Based on Defra figures(1), the cost for trapping and shooting badgers is £2,500 per square kilometre a year, compared to £2,250 for trapping and vaccinating. While the cost of shooting will reduce slightly each year, dependant on the reduced number of badgers, the cost of policing must also be taken into account: around £500,000 pa is estimated for policing if badgers are being shot – this is likely to be significantly reduced if no protester action is taking place.

In December last year, government-backed research(2) revealed that vaccinating badgers can reduce the level of bTB within an infected colony by 54%.  Further, that unvaccinated young badgers within the same social group as the vaccinated adults showed a reduction in risk to bTB of nearly 80% – showing that vaccination has a knock-on positive effect within the sett.

Care for the Wild is supporting the national march against the badger cull in London on June 1st. See www.londonagainstthecull.org.uk.

Care for the Wild is a charity based in Sussex dedicated to the protection of wildlife in the UK and abroad. For more information or if you would like to support our work, see www.careforthewild.com.

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