Q. What's black and white and red all over?
A. An innocent, disease-free badger slaughtered by the government.
Unfortunately, this isn't a joke. On 1 June licences will be issued for the culling of badgers across pilot cull zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire in a trial not to see if culling works, but to see if culling can be carried out humanely by using trained marksman.
There's no doubt that farmers do face big challenges with bTB right now - it is a devastating disease and it can ruin their production, income and their whole livelihoods. Likewise, there is no doubt that farmers have made great headway towards working more in harmony alongside wildlife over the past decade or more. However, there is also no doubt that this policy is pointless. As Dr Brian May put it on Radio 5 Live alongside my colleague Dominic Dyer on the eve of the cull, 'a grave crime against wildlife is about to be committed.'
We really need to look at this as a 'grave crime'. It's not only a crime against wildlife, it's a crime against science and a crime against public opinion - that which the government is supposed to represent.
The government is basing their science on the results of the 10 year Randomised Badger Cull Trial, which resulted in the killing of 10,000 badgers at a cost of £50m. The summary of that Trial, however, was that a cull 'can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control'.
If this wasn't enough, at the tail end of last year in a letter to the Observer, the UK's leading scientists spoke out against the cull and described them as a "costly distraction", that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.
Public and political opinion is against the cull. A petition led by Brian May and Team Badger has over 228,000 signatures (currently the most of any active government petition and close to being the biggest ever). Last year MPs voted 147-28 against it. Several farmers are against the cull and the latest You Gov poll - ironically commissioned by the NFU - shows 34% of the public are against the culll, versus 29% that are for it (the others mainly don't know or have no opinion - that may change when the shooting starts).
Ultimately, it is clear that this is a political decision to appease the powerful farming unions. Recently, in an interview with the Sunday Times, Defra Secretary Owen Paterson said that he would like to cull 100,000 badgers over a 25-year period. On the other hand, Mr Paterson states that: 'We'd love to vaccinate but vaccination of cattle is at least 10 years away'. These two statements contradict each other - why 25 years of culling if vaccines are only 10 years away? This shows the arrogance and ignorance of Mr Paterson who seems hell-bent on building his career on brownie points from the powerful farming lobby by killing badgers pointlessly.
Animal welfare organisations like Care for the Wild have a reason to fight this cull. We're not just jumping on the band-wagon, we're not just being 'over-emotive' and we're certainly not extremists, as some of the pro-farming press has labelled us.
Here in the UK we should be proud of our affinity to animals and wildlife and our history of finding win-win solutions to problems like this, rather than adopting the proposed 'slash and burn' techniques of yesteryear. It's all too easy for Mr Paterson and his cronies to quote previous actions in New Zealand, the USA and Ireland involving culls and disease management (all of which are inherently different to this planned cull), but should we even be advocating that we follow their out-dated approach? It wasn't there after all that leading charities such as Care for the Wild, the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, BUAV were formed all those years ago. This is testament that the UK leads in animal welfare and we should not ignore this.
We need to speak out, and we're proudly supporting the National March Against the Badger Cull in Central London on 1st June. We'll be there with banners, leaflets and even woolly badger hats (kindly knitted by one of our team members at the weekend). Other actions that we can all take include buying milk that doesn't come from farms where they're planning to cull badgers - Care for the Wild recently dumped Dairy Crest as our milk supplier as they couldn't confirm their sourcing areas, and we now know that we can get 'badger friendly' milk from Asda, Waitrose or M&S - supermarkets which currently only source from farms outside the cull areas.
So, to clarify: why is this all necessary? Because, with one-sided reporting coming out of certain parts of the BBC such as Radio 4's PM show, and Springwatch pretending the cull issue doesn't exist, someone has to take a stand - and each and every one of us can make a difference if we all follow suit.