Six weeks of killing badgers – a post-mortem
Guest blog from Badger Action News
The six week badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset ended on Monday at midday. Killing fewer than 70 per cent of badgers in a given area is thought to increase the risk of TB rather than reducing it, so how did this cull fare, on those terms?
In Gloucestershire, around 253 badgers were killed, less than the minimum number (615) set by Defra. The Somerset target of 315 was slightly exceeded, but this was an arbitrary target seemingly chosen because it was reachable. Badger expert Professor Rosie Woodroffe told the Guardian on Friday that, based on the estimated size of the badger populations in the cull zones, it is 97.5 per cent likely that operators failed to reach the 70 per cent mark. “Furthermore, with the data that is being collected, it will be impossible to know how effective this year’s culls have been,” she added.
Unlike last year, there has been no extension of the cull, which the National Farmers Union (NFU) has admitted was again hampered by the presence of many opponents, as local residents and experienced activists collaborated round the clock to monitor and disrupt shooting and trapping. Policing costs will again be borne by the taxpayer (Gloucestershire Constabulary alone were paid £2,338,248 for their operation in 2013). The majority of cull protesters are entirely law-abiding; nevertheless hundreds of expensive badger cage traps were deactivated and destroyed over the period, and there were incidents of illegal sett tampering and damage to protesters’ vehicles by supporters of the cull.
The government have not yet announced whether badger shooting licenses will be rolled out to other areas, and may not do so before next May. The Labour Party has committed to ending the practice if elected. Nevethertheless, the NFU (which represents 18 per cent of farmers) has been galvanising contractors and farmers in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset to create culling franchises and to be ready to go. Activists up and down the country are therefore continuing to lobby their councils to refuse to allow badgers to be killed on their land, and to support vaccination programs instead.
Badger vaccination combined with cattle measures have seen rates of bovine TB in Wales drop by half in four years. In a ComRes poll published this week, 89 per cent of British adults surveyed wanted the UK government to stop culling badgers and to follow the Welsh Government’s example. Last year, it took £8 million to kill just over 1,800 animals, which works out at around £4000 per badger. Vaccination is far cheaper – as low as £300 per badger when volunteers are involved. Various vaccination schemes are already underway across the country (e.g. those run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Shropshire Badger Group and Cornwall Badger Rescue) and a lot of people politicised by the 2013 cull are known to have gone on to train as badger vaccinators. According to one activist:
“When you think of all the hours of set surveying [by ‘badger patrols’ over the last six weeks] that have been put in and could so easily have been used for the purposes of vaccinating in Somerset and Gloucestershire… The government could have harnessed so many willing volunteers”.
NFU leaders claim that an advantage of extending the cull to other areas would be that “protesters will be spread too thinly to be able to sabotage it”. However, glance at the ongoing chat in anti-cull social media forums and you start to draw different conclusions…
“If this is rolled out nationally they won’t know what’s hit them. They just do not seem to have a grasp on how passionately people feel about this issue. For every one of us that traveled to Somerset each week to fight this cull… there will be at least twenty more ready to fight it if its rolled out to their local areas.”
This blog was first published on Badger Action News. A joint web project between Ethical Consumer and Lush Cosmetics.
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