According to a BBC article, badger culls will begin in five new zones this year - two in Devon, one in Cornwall, one in Herefordshire and a second zone in Dorset - as well as continuing in existing zones in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.
In spite of data suggesting that the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in the original cull zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset has been progressively worsening since culling began, published science demonstrating that badgers and cattle actively avoid direct contact with each other and cattle avoid areas that badgers frequent, and ever-increasing evidence to show that failures of the testing regime and inadequate restrictions on cattle movements and farm biosecurity are the major reasons for persistent herd breakdowns, the killing of thousands of innocent badgers seems set to continue.
This State-licensed wildlife slaughter will go ahead in the face of widespread expert and public opposition. Even the British Veterinary Association, which supports culling in principle in what it calls "carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bTB in cattle" (which seems to mean anywhere within the Government's 'High Risk Area' for bovine TB, covering most of the west and south west of England), opposes the issuing of licenses that allow badgers to be culled by 'controlled shooting' (targeting free-roaming badgers at night with rifles) because of animal welfare concerns.
Before any wildlife intervention is authorised, particularly one which will see a protected native species being blown to pieces in large numbers by gunmen at night in our countryside, there are surely a number of basic criteria that should be satisfied:
- The intervention should be based on good science;
- There should be a substantial, predictable and measurable benefit from the intervention;
- The intervention should be humane and socially acceptable;
- There should be no effective alternative method of achieving the desired outcome;
- Any unintended consequences (such as impacts on non-target animals or the wider ecology, or increased illegal persecution of the species concerned) should be identified and mitigated;
- The intervention should be undertaken, or at the very least overseen, by independent experts with no vested interests in either the activity or the outcome; and
- The policy under which the intervention takes place should be adaptive in the face of new or emerging evidence.
The government's licensed badger culls fulfil none of the above criteria. The data on which the assumed reductions in cattle TB are based (derived from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial that took place between 1998 and 2005) predicted only a small reduction in cattle TB over several years (and even this small 'benefit' is hotly disputed), and in any event the methods being employed do not resemble those used in the original trials so any use of the trial data to predict outcomes of the current culls is flawed. Culling badgers using 'controlled shooting' failed to meet the Government's own Independent Expert Panel's humaneness criteria, and the culls have been consistently met with widespread public opposition. Bovine TB in cattle can be effectively controlled with the right cattle testing, movement restriction and biosecurity regimes, as was clearly demonstrated during the 'area eradication strategy' employed in the UK in the late 1950s and 1960s. Little if any attempt has been made to establish or mitigate the negative impacts culling large numbers of badgers might have on badger society or the wider ecology. Culling is being undertaken by farmer/landowner groups employing hired guns with little or no government oversight, and the government seems to take little interest in important emerging evidence which consistently and unequivocally exposes the flaws in its rationale.
Badger culling seems to be little more than a sop to certain elements within the landowning and farming community and their political representatives. The culls will cost taxpayers and farmers a huge amount of money and thousands of badgers their lives, while doing nothing to help control TB in cattle. That a protected native species should be sacrificed in such numbers for political purposes in 21st century Britain is nothing short of a national disgrace.
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