WMN opinion: Minister sticks to his guns on the pilot badger culls
When the going gets tough the tough stick to their guns. And Owen Paterson is nothing if not robust in the face of adversity. So when he faced up to a House of Commons Committee yesterday and was grilled over the apparent failure of the two pilot badger culls, both of which have had to be extended because they killed insufficient numbers, he came out fighting.
"We are not going to drop our spades and run away in the first few weeks," the Environment Secretary insisted, in the face of questioning about the Somerset and Gloucestershire pilots. He then conceded that perhaps six weeks – the time set aside for each cull – was actually "not enough".
It would be easy to criticise Mr Paterson, his department and those who organised these two culls. They have hardly been a rip-roaring success and far from proving to the public that the shooting of free running badgers is a viable option, they may well have damaged credibility in the method.
But it must be remembered that they are "pilots" – tests of the method of culling and its effectiveness. Mistakes have been made but they can be put right. Mr Paterson appears, to the relief of many farmers, to have not lost any of his resolve. If he and those involved in the culls have learned lessons from what has gone on so far and put those lessons into practice then, surely, things can only get better.
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The National Trust has, fortunately, seen sense and rejected a call from a handful of its members for an outright ban on the culling of badgers on its land. As landlord to hundreds of livestock farmers it would have been irresponsible in the extreme to have denied them one of the weapons against the scourge of bovine TB.
The Trust is also to be congratulated for at least investigating whether vaccinating badgers can work. The current trial on the Killerton estate in Devon may well yield useful results, although vaccination is never going to be the whole answer to this disease, as most experts acknowledge.
What the Trust cannot and must not do is try to please everyone on this divisive issue. It is disappointing to hear the Trust say that it "neither supports nor opposes the current pilot culls." National Trust farmers who live under the constant threat of bovine TB deserve to know their landlord is on their side.