WMN opinion: Farmers deserve better in battle against bovine TB
In the face of impeccably-sourced information obtained by the Western Morning News about a significant shortfall in the number of badgers so far culled in Somerset and Gloucestershire, farmers in the Westcountry battling with bovine TB are keeping faith with the Government's policy. That shows commendable loyalty.
Despite the WMN report – not directly denied by Defra and backed by several sources – that marksmen in Somerset are killing only a fraction of the 50 to 60 badgers a night they need to dispatch to meet the Government culling targets, those worst affected by this rural crisis remain positive. Let's hope their confidence is not misplaced. The WMN has always supported the badger cull as one of the weapons in the battle against bovine TB. The vast majority of farmers, who take no pleasure in killing wildlife and, in some cases, are running significant risks by supporting and sanctioning the cull, are desperate for an answer to the misery of this disease.
But if shooting free running badgers, which is being piloted in the two cull zones, won't provide that answer, Defra is under an obligation to say so – and quickly. Further, it must come up with alternatives, perhaps including consideration of the plan drawn up by Somerset farmer and businessman Derek Mead to identify, as accurately as possible, diseased badger setts and humanely cull the occupants in those setts, using poisoned gas.
It is hard to see, having heard the evidence that the WMN has obtained, how the cull as it is currently set up, can deliver a 70% reduction of badgers in the two cull zones. That's the percentage required to bring about a drop in outbreaks of bovine TB among cattle and, on the estimates of those on the ground, would require the removal of more than 2,000 badgers in the Somerset area alone.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef wellingtons
Must book to qualify and present voucher on arrival 01209860332
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Wednesday, December 11 2013
It is probably right, on balance, that the cull runs to its agreed conclusion over the full six weeks and the results are analysed once it is over. But it is now possible to see, with the leaking of these figures, that there must be serious doubts it can achieve its targets. It is, of course, a trial. But it was a trial to see if badgers could be humanely and effectively killed with rifles and shotguns, not a trial of whether or not culling was necessary to reduce the incidence of bovine TB. As far as the Government is concerned that has also been proven.
If shooting badgers at night, with all the attendant protests, demonstrations and difficulties – some of them imposed by Defra and Natural England – cannot work, then an alternative must be found. It would be totally and completely unacceptable for Defra to let the cull run for the full six weeks, declare that it has failed because targets have not been reached and leave the farmers with no viable alternative. Many have invested, financially and emotionally in this 'solution' to one of the greatest threats to their livelihoods and peace of mind. They must be not hung out to dry on the basis of a cull doomed to fail.