THE BLOG

Badgers Take Centre Stage for the Next General Election

13/11/2014 11:23 GMT | Updated 13/01/2015 10:59 GMT

From arrogance to silence - how much difference a year can make when it comes to killing badgers.

A year ago the former Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson was in a very bullish mood concerning the badger cull policy. The first year of the pilot culls had been completed in Gloucestershire & Somerset and he was telling MPs that they had been a great success and he was preparing for a national roll out of the policy.

Twelve months on, Owen Paterson has gone, the victim of his own arrogance, to be replaced by the younger and less experienced Liz Truss.

Rather than bold statements concerning the success and importance of badger culling, Liz seems to have completely lost her voice on this highly contentious issue.

She did not mention the badger cull once in her maiden speech to the Tory Party Conference. When laying out her vision for protecting the environment to conservative-leaning think tank the Policy Exchange in London last week, she discussed climate change, flooding prevention and protecting pollinators, but yet again failed to mention the badger cull.

My request to attend the event as the CEO of the Badger Trust was met with a polite response to say all the places had been filled. With respect, I wonder if this says more about Liz Truss's eagerness to avoid talking badgers, than her pulling power as a speaker with an exciting new vision for Defra.

After a year which has seen over 300,000 sign a petition against the cull, three Westminster debates and over 25 marches for badgers in towns and cities across the country, Liz Truss knows that killing badgers is a very hard sell even within the Tory Party.

Although the Badger Trust lost its battle with Defra in the High Court over the lack of independent monitoring of the culls, it has most definitely won the battle for hearts and minds on the Court of public opinion.

In recent weeks a MORI poll has shown that badger culling is the fifth most common issue of complaint to MPs over the past 12 months. A further poll by ComRes commissioned by the Badger Trust and Care for Wild, showed that 8 out 10 people believe badger culling is both cruel and ineffective.

At the farm gate level, attempts by the NFU to paint a picture of an ever rising level of TB in cattle have been completely undermined by Defra statistics, showing that tighter cattle measures have delivered a 12% drop in the number of cattle slaughtered for TB in areas of the South West (outside of the culling zones) in the last 12 months alone.

Even in Ireland, which is constantly held up by Liz Truss and her predecessor to justify a culling policy, a recent research project funded by the Irish Government has found that culling thousands of badgers has resulted in an increase in bovine TB levels in County Donegal, rather than a decrease as expected. This led the report's authors to conclude that killing badgers is not sustainable and should be halted over the longer term, in favour of cattle based measures and the vaccination of badgers as is being successfully implemented in Wales.

More pressure is also being brought to bear on the Prime Minister following an open letter he has received this week from leading vets and scientists, calling for the rapid implementation of annual TB cattle testing and tighter movement control measures in England, which have already proven very effective in Wales over the last five years.

The badger cull policy is political poison and comes with a 'Handle with Great Care' label for Liz Truss.

She would no doubt like to see the back of the policy but is being held hostage by the Prime Minister who remains very concerned by the in-roads UKIP is making into the farming and landowning community, who remain deeply wedded to the disastrous cull.

In the next few weeks the Badger Trust will be writing to the leaders of all the UK political parties, seeking their views on badger culling and the possible roll out of the policy across the country. All the responses received will be published to ensure the millions who oppose the policy can make an informed choice at the next election.

As we enter an election campaign with both main parties fighting for 30% of the vote, a further two or even three party coalition in May 2015 remains very likely.

The views of all political parties from the Tories and Labour to UKIP, SNP and the Green Party could therefore have a key impact on the future of the badger culling policy.

Suddenly the badger cull has taken centre stage in British politics and will be a key issue for millions of voters at the next election. In some marginal seats ,opposition to the cull policy could even decide which MP enters Westminster.

Badgers have friends and those friends vote. No longer can politicians arrogantly cook up backroom deals with farming and landowning interests to destroy badgers, without paying a high political price.

This can only be good for our democracy and the future protection of our

precious wildlife.