Set aside the TB issue: badgers are a pest to be controlled
The more the debate about how to tackle the problem of badgers rumbles on, the more disillusioned I am becoming with politicians.
I see the Farmers' Union of Wales has now weighed in with a call for the Welsh population of badgers to receive the same treatment as excessive numbers of deer do in other parts of the country – to be shot because there are simply too many of them.
The animals have spread – or have had to spread – to areas far outside their previous regular habitats, while the toll on other wildlife species such as slow worms, hedgehogs and bumblebees is reaching a horrific level. In other words, setting aside the entire TB issue they are now a pest which has to be controlled.
Yet almost simultaneously Professor Glyn Hewinson, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency's chief scientist, has declared that because of EU restrictions and the need for extensive field trials, cattle vaccination is unlikely to make a significant contribution to control bovine TB for a decade or so, while an oral vaccine for badgers is at best six years away – by the most optimistic of forecasts.
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A pity this sort of view wasn't being expressed during all the long years farmers suffered under a Labour administration when vaccination was held up as the be-all and end-all solution to the problem and one that obviated the need to do anything about badgers at all.
More than a decade was wasted in tackling TB, allowing the disease to get well and truly out of control, allowing badger numbers to carry on growing exponentially to levels never before seen and allowing the problem of controlling them to grow to almost insurmountable proportions.
Not that this Government has done much better – thanks to the badger sympathisers who evidently inhabit some of the higher floors at Defra. Two years down the line and a cull is only just getting under way – which hardly rates as urgent action.
Even now it will only be a partial cull in two counties, when what we really need is to grasp the nettle and organise it far more widely – for reasons specified this week by the Welsh farmers.
As to "using all the available tools in the box" as politicians are so fond of putting it, one particular tool has been available but has been ignored by Defra and dismissed by the NFU: the proven technique of identifying diseased setts which could be employed, their occupants then being painlessly gassed.
More opportunities ignored, more time wasted, more stress and financial hardship for farmers, more chances for the pro-badger lunatics to brainwash the public into believing farmers wish to exterminate the entire badger population.
At least we are getting it laid on the line by Professor Hewinson: "Vaccination of badgers and cattle won't solve the huge problem of bovine TB in Great Britain. The barriers to their wider use are sizeable and will take time to overcome. In the meantime, it is important that all other means are used to bear down on the disease."
Music to farmers' ears – if a melody they would have preferred to hear playing out years ago.
But presumably Brian May and the others will declare they know better, as usual.
Derek Mead is an entrepreneur dairy farmer from Weston-super-Mare