Photo: © Colin Varndell (with thanks to Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare)

Trial Badger Cull starts in the South West

In case you have somehow managed to miss the local and national news headlines, the UK government have given the full go ahead for a trial cull of at least 70% of the badgers living in Gloucestershire and Somerset in an attempt to test the safety, efficiency and humaneness of free shooting badgers at night (as part of a wider aim to see if culling badgers can help reduce the rates of TB in cattle), despite ignoring Scientific consensus, respected wildlife experts including Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham, as well as overwhelming public objections (the government petition started by Dr Brian May against the badger cull is the most signed e-petition EVER and ends this Saturday 7th September 2013 and now has over 300,000 signatures).

The Welsh Assembly has cancelled its own badger cull plans and opted for badger vaccination. Similar trials have already been completed and deemed ineffective in Ireland where TB in cattle is still widespread (even though badgers have virtually been eliminated there according to Animal Aid), and yet a trial badger cull still started here in the UK – in Somerset last week and in Gloucestershire earlier this week. (I won’t go into the debates over the NFU and Defra’s actions and all the political shenanigans – you’ll find plenty of that all over the papers, Facebook and Twitter if you are interested!).

TB Free England say that a badger cull may only reduce bTB by 16% over 9.5 years for a 150sq-km culling area. Defra’s own wildlife advisory body, Natural England, who have to implement the government proposals, say they have little confidence in a badger cull delivering the predicted benefits long term. Notable scientists including Lord Krebs oppose the badger cull. After ten years of research, the Independent Study Group lead by Professor John Bourne said that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.

Dorset is the next badger cull zone

Dorset has been marked as the ‘reserve area’ which means our badgers could be culled at any moment if things don’t work out in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the next few weeks. If the cull is then rolled out across the UK then Dorset will be the next cull zone area (unconfirmed rumours are that it will be in West Dorset and North Dorset especially likely around Beaminster).

This July there was public outrage in Dorset as it was reported that Conservative Councillors hijacked a vote on the badger cull at the Dorset County Council (where as a Dorset resident I would hope they work for us on our local community issues and not just tow party lines), when DCC had the opportunity to follow the lead of other county councils such as Derbyshire who have banned badger culling on council owned land.

Why cull our badgers?

The South West is a TB hotspot. The aim of the pilot cull is to test the free shooting of badgers at night. The pilot culls will not actually measure the impact on bovine TB. If it is deemed a ‘successful’ humane killing method then the culling of badgers will also be permitted throughout the UK. The RSPCA have said that out of the 5000 badgers to be shot in the trials only 5% will actually be tested for ‘humaneness’ – it is too expensive to test them all! Out of the badgers that do carry TB it is also estimated only a small percentage will actually be ‘infectious’ making such as a mass culling completely indiscriminate.

Farming Monthly reported in July that Defra announced TB rates in cattle have actually hit their lowest levels for 6 years. Care for the Wild believes this follows new legislation brought in on January 1st 2013 to improve bTB testing and cattle movement procedures. Bovine TB is not in the top 3 causes of premature slaughtering of dairy cows – infertility, lameness and udder infections are much more rife – which along with other diseases are essentially caused by pushing cows above and beyond their natural production limit in order to squeeze more profit out of them, this in turn is as a result of struggling farmers who have been put under pressure by larger industrialised farms and by supermarkets demanding them to slash their prices. According to local group Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare, only 0.3% of UK cattle is slaughtered each year due to bTB.

I run local voluntary community group Compassionate Dorset who believe that all animals are sentient beings that deserve respect and compassion. We sympathise with farmers and our main concern is for the welfare of farm animals (and our logo is actually of a cow!), but we also care about our local wildlife and believe there must be a way for us all to live in harmony. We are very concerned that the inhumane method of killing in the badger culls would cause the badgers a tremendous amount of suffering (which is what is concerning the leading animal welfare charities including RSPCA, The International Humane Society and The Badger Trust), and even more alarming, that culling could actually spread TB to otherwise healthy cattle and cows if badgers start fleeing killzones, including of the free range and organic farmers that support us.

It is still illegal to kill badgers outside the specific trial cull zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire

There are other concerns that the trial badger culls are already opening the floodgates to animal cruelty and havoc in our countryside and communities, with shocking reports (although as far as I am aware there is no solid evidence) badgers may be being shot, gassed and setts blown up throughout the UK including in Dorset, and that farmers are using dogs to torment and kill badgers (which incidentally can cause great suffering to the dogs if bitten back by defensive badgers). Badgers are a much loved and ‘protected’ species – it is completely illegal to hurt them in any way except in the cull zones being trialled in Somerset and Gloucestershire this month. If you see a wildlife crime such as anyone hurting badgers, or find ANY dead badgers anywhere even on the roads, you should report it to the RSPCA Cruelty Line on 0300 1234 999 or even the police.

There are also voluntary Wounded Badger Patrols who are peacefully and legally rescuing wounded badgers who have been shot and left to die slowly in the trial cull zones.

Alternative ways to help control bovine TB

The RSPCA (who offer a Freedom Foods standard for farm animal welfare) along with several other organisations including the Dorset Wildlife Trust recommend several measures as a more effective way to prevent TB in cattle without having to potentially wipe out our badgers, including:

  • vaccination for badgers
  • restricted cattle movements
  • better bio-security on farms (including; more rigorous and more frequent testing of cattle for bTB, improved ventilation in cow sheds to decrease cow to cow spread of disease, quarantine areas for infected cattle, regularly cleaning water troughs sometimes shared by badgers and other possible TB carriers and installing badger-proof fences where needed)
  • vaccination of cattle in the long-term (we need to put pressure on the UK government to focus on investing in changing current EU legislation for cows that have been tested for TB, and to trial the DIVA test)

Compassionate Companies Against the Badger Cull

Poole based ethical company Lush Cosmetics recently handed in 21,000 anti-cull campaign postcards that were collected in Lush stores, to the Conservative Policy Minister (also my MP for West Dorset), Oliver Letwin. Hilary Jones, Lush’s Ethics Director, said that “It’s time for someone sensible in government to step forward and bring this nonsense to an end. They know it will not solve bovine TB; their own scientists have told them this. It is time for the Tories to stop ransoming badgers in order to get farming votes and start dealing with the realities of modern farming practices.”

Green Energy Supplier Ecotricity have also supported Animal Aid’s campaign as part of Team Badger, with the founder of Ecotricity Dale Vince stating, “I fully support Team Badger in their efforts in getting this hideous cull stopped. It’s worth considering that if we truly have to virtually wipe out a species like the badger just to produce milk from cows, then maybe we should be questioning the basis for the dairy industry itself. After all, we don’t need cows’ milk to live.”

Certainly food for thought but if you don’t want to give up dairy, or to stop supporting conscientious farmers, several supermarkets are even selling ‘Badger Friendly Milk’ by supplying milk from farms that will not allow the badger cull on their land. This includes Asda, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. (I would personally urge people to spare a thought for our cows too and only ever buy free-range and/or organic dairy and meat, especially this Organic September).

Support Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Badger Vaccination Appeal

I think that the fact that all The Wildlife Trusts will not allow badger culling on any of their land speaks volumes. This is not about the morals of culling animals as part of land management or in order to protect an endangered species, which most people would probably agree should only ever be the last resort and done as humanely as possible – this is about the non-sensical highly controversial, unnecessary and inhumane slaughtering of the vast majority of a mostly healthy and otherwise protected species (it is extremely difficult to free shoot badgers especially at night so most will die slowly and in agony from their wounds) and I believe it has huge implications for the balance of our bio-diversity and even cause dire consequences for the very animals they are being killed to protect – our cows – who will all be killed in a few years time anyway to be sold for meat or when they are simply no longer of commercial value. This is the brutal and sad reality, but YOU have the power to protect our badgers AND our cows AND support our farmers!…

1 badger vaccine costs just £5.
Please consider texting BADG13 £5 to 70070 or go online to donate to the Dorset Wildlife Trust Badger Vaccination Appeal.

Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare are also working hard to support other voluntary badger vaccination schemes in the hope of offering them for free to farmers who pledge not to cull on their land.

Remember that farmers work for us

The government and the NFU may well be doing a dis-service to our struggling farmers with all the public outcry and negative press they are receiving, and by acting irrationally just to be seen to “be doing something”, but it would be sad to see this issue turning into ‘us v them’ (the ‘public v the farmer’) with such an emotive issue such as killing our beloved badgers. But please remember that farmers exist to provide us as consumers with our food and they need us to support British farming.

Some people are saying that if you eat cows or drink their milk you might as well be holding a gun, and there is a small number of people who would happily see us boycott British farms altogether over the badger cull issue, but although I choose to be vegan myself, I would personally hate to see that happen. Whatever your views are on eating meat/dairy or the badger cull, Britain still has higher farm animal welfare standards than many countries. We have a long way to go (according to Compassion in World Farming 2 out of 3 farms are still factory farmed worldwide) and there is simply no excuse for factory farming in this day and age (for many reasons I won’t go into now but you can read previous blog posts on Sustainable Farming), but please support British free-range, high welfare and organic farms, and of course badger friendly farms.

For those farmers pro cull, sitting on the fence or those who have no care for badgers, I personally do hope they will see sense and at least postpone signing up to allow a badger cull on their land, and instead opt for badger vaccination and take much stronger bio-security measures and restricted cattle movements, otherwise they may well find themselves under more threat of TB than they are now, and they certainly won’t win over the hearts and minds of their customers.

(Please note that any opinions here are my own as a Dorset resident and speaking on behalf of the reported 70%+ UK people who do not want the badger cull and who instead support vaccination and better farming as humane and more sensible solutions to bovine TB).