It's with an unpleasant sense of déjà vu that I write this, but for the fifth year running the time has come round again when the Government allows the killing of thousands of badgers, despite the fact that they're supposedly a protected species.
The badger cull policy was designed as part of the Government's strategy to combat bovine TB (bTB) - an issue that is leading to the slaughter of around 2500 cattle per month in England according to Defra. What the Government seems to have continually failed to comprehend, though, is that you could kill every single badger in the land and you would still have bTB. In honesty, with this year's maximum badger kill target set at 33,000 badgers, as part of a cull which the Government's own independent expert panel deemed inhumane, it makes you wonder if total badger eradication is actually their true aim?
Bovine TB is undeniably a complex issue. It causes devastation to farmers and is something that needs to be resolved. Aside from thinking about the way we farm and the way consumers 'demand' a high volume of dairy products at low prices, there are many many other issues over and above badgers in the bTB debate. Stricter control of animals' movements and a better, and more accurate, testing regime are just some. Cattle vaccination is another.
What's perplexing about this policy of killing pretty much as many badgers as physically possible with no end result, is that everyone knows this policy is not only cruel, barbaric and expensive (c£5000 of your lovely tax payer money per badger killed), but it is also pointless. The infamous Randomised Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) showed that, after 10 years, £50 million spent and over 10,000 badgers killed in far more controlled conditions those of the current cull, "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain."
So why oh why is this cull continuing? And why on earth has it been expanded so widely this year when previous years of killing have resulted in nothing but badger deaths, high cost and extreme levels of public anger. This year the cull expanded into Devon, Wiltshire, Dorset and Cheshire as well as the original zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire. As taxpayers, we've already funded the killing of around 15,000 badgers since this cull began and really we don't want any more. No one does. This is just culling for culling's sake. What's more, this year's target is measured solely on the number of badgers killed (a truly bizarre indicator from a scientific point of view) and no badgers are tested to see whether they even had bTB!
This cull is not only unbelievable, it's unscientific, illogical and unnecessary. It's also inhumane. Recent reports, highlighted on the front page of The Mirror, showed a badger left to bleed to death overnight in Devon. It had been cage trapped, 'dispatched' (aka shot at point blank) but hadn't died. Instead it almost certainly suffered a slow and painful death. The badger was found at 1.20pm the following day, still warm, likely having very recently died and soaked in blood.
We must wake up to what's happening here. This policy is politically motivated and brought about by key farming lobbying groups. It's embarrassing for the Government to pull the plug now, but it's more embarrassing for them to keep on killing.
If, like pretty much everyone in the UK, you don't think pointlessly killing badgers at high cost with low welfare considerations is a good policy, then you can help. The good news is it doesn't matter where you are - urban or rural. If you are in a badger cull zone then regular wounded badger patrols operate each night, looking for badgers injured in the cull and they desperately need your help. You can find out how to volunteer here.
Alternatively write to your MP and tell them that enough is enough and it's time to back off our badgers and end this pointless slaughter, once and for all. Instead, we can focus on solutions that will work and actually help our farmers and our wildlife.