The controversial badger cull is coming to Herefordshire and it could start within a matter of days.
Around 4,000 badgers have been killed, either by high powered rifles or with shotguns after being caught in traps, since the culls began in Gloucestershire and Somerset during the autumn of 2013.
Last year the culling was extended to a third zone in north Dorset. This year the cull is expected to be extended to five new areas at the start of September, with badgers in south Herefordshire, areas of north and south Devon, Cornwall and west Dorset joining others in the firing line.
The government says that the culling is part of its 25-year plan to eradicate bovine TB, which it and the National Farmers’ Union claims is spread to cattle by badgers. Opponents however, claim that the killing is not helping to reduce the spread of bTB and may in fact be making it worse, and that the cull has the aim of reducing the badger population rather than limiting the spread of the disease, as they are not tested for bTB before they are shot.
Initially due to begin in Autumn 2012, the ‘trial’ badger culls have faced a number of setbacks along the way. The start was postponed until 2013 after DEFRA, the government body overseeing the cull, admitted that they had wrongly estimated the number of badgers in the zones.
When the first year of culling did get underway it failed to go to plan, with the cullers falling significantly short of their target of 70% of badgers killed in both zones. In an attempt to make sure they hit their target, it was revised down and DEFRA extended the cull, but despite this the cullers again failed to reach this.
Protesters were blamed by some. Their presence in parts of the cull zones meant that the cull contractors were unable to operate as they had planned, with it also reported that hundreds of cages used to trap the badgers had been destroyed or had gone missing.
The independent expert panel, which was appointed by DEFRA to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the cull, found the first year had failed to be effective and that it was inhumane, with over 5% of the badgers shoot taking over five minutes to die.
For the second year of culling, the independent panel was scrapped and since then the culls have carried on much in the same light. Protesters have continued to expose what they claim are a number of breaches of the cullers own rules, including marksmen shooting while in close proximity to protesters and failing to retrieve badgers that had been shot but had not died instantly.
Between 2012–2015 it is estimated that the badger culls cost the taxpayer over £16m, with the figure set to rise dramatically as it is extended this year.
Despite the government’s insistence to carry on with the culls, and successful lobbying from the NFU for this, the badger cull continues to face huge opposition from a number of camps and for a whole host of reasons.
In 2012 Lord Krebs, a scientific advisor who oversaw a previous badger cull in the 1990s, described the plan to cull as ‘crazy,’ saying that it would deliver little or no advantage to the bTB situation and advising that the routes of increased biosecurity and vaccination are instead used to try to tackle the disease. Many have also warned of the effects of what is known as the perturbation effect, when badgers fleeing the cull areas leave the territories which they usually inhabit, potentially spreading bTB to new areas. A recent study on contact between badgers and cattle claims that the animals do not spread the disease through direct contact, as previously thought, with lead author Prof. Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London urging a rethink on government advice to farmers and its current disease control policy.
Organisations ranging from the RSPCA to the Wildlife Trusts and Hunt Saboteurs Association have called for the cull to be ended on animal welfare grounds, with the latter taking an active roll in trying to sabotage the culls, freeing badgers from traps and trying to prevent marksmen from going about their business.
There have been around 40 protest marches in towns and cities across the country in the last few years, including the march in Hereford back in November. A large, grassroots anti-cull movement has sprung up around the country, particularly with ‘Wounded Badger Patrols’ being set up locally to walk the fields and footpaths where the culls are happening, a way for many people to have a presence in the zones regardless of previous experience.
There is plenty that can be done to help protect the badgers in Herefordshire, from keeping an eye on your local badger sett, reporting on any suspicious activity or tip-offs that you’ve heard from people in your local area, getting out in the fields and lanes of the county as part of a badger patrol, to raising awareness and funds so that the costs of petrol and equipment can be covered and more people hear about the slaughter taking place on our doorstep. If you want to act for Herefordshire’s badgers, now is the time! Follow some of the links below to see how you can help.