Yesterday over a hundred people gathered outside the annual Tory Party Conference in Birmingham to protest against the upcoming pilot badger cull planned for two areas in the West Country, the latest part of an increasingly intense debate over the morality and practicality of killing badgers to lower TB in cattle.
For a number of months now a battle has been brewing in the countryside, between dairy farmers and those advocating a cull of badgers, and seemingly the vast majority of the public who’re opposed to the cull alongside the animal rights activists vowing to stop it. It looks like the cull is about to begin and this battle may finally come out into the open.
This cull is to be a ‘trial’ held over 4 years, consisting of 6 week periods when badgers can be shot. Although the exact locations of the cull are being kept secret, this initial trial will be held in two general areas; west Somerset including parts of Exmoor and the Taunton Deane district and west Gloucestershire, including the Forest of Dean and stretching to Tewkesbury (including parts of the Malvern Hills district and small areas of southern Herefordshire). Areas near badger sets will be ‘baited’ with peanuts to encourage badgers, where marksmen will be waiting to shoot them at night.
DEFRA and the National Farmers’ Union are claiming that a cull is an effective way of lowering tuberculosis in dairy cows, a disease which some claim costs the farming industry and the government an estimated £75-100m a year. If carried out correctly and meeting certain criteria, culling could reduce incidence of bovine TB by an average of 16% over 9 years. For it to be effective, it is said that over 70% of badgers in the cull areas will need to be killed. It is believed that up to 130,000 badgers could be killed during the cull period.
Opponents from all corners are slamming this move for its immorality as well as its scientific invalidity. Many believe that the figures simply do not add up, and that the number of badgers that would need to be killed far outweighs such a small decrease in cases of bovine TB. DEFRA have issued guidelines to marksmen taking part in the cull, including diagrams of which areas of the body they need to target. Despite this, it is still likely that some badgers will not be killed outright and will suffer a longer and more painful death. Vaccination is being cited as a much more ethical way of controlling the spread of TB, rather than a mass shooting. Vaccinating badgers that are caught in cages is currently being used and trialed in an area in Devon, as well as in Wales and Gloucestershire.
The science and the figures used to support the cull are also being questioned. Lord Krebs, a government science adviser and the mastermind behind another, more wide-spread trial badger cull in the 1990s recently came out saying he believed the cull scheme was ‘crazy.’ The Badger Trust went to the High Court earlier in the summer, hoping to get the badger cull overruled. Their case was built on their belief that the cull would be both ‘illegal and unscientific.’ It failed, but one of their main points what that the shooting of badgers would actually spread TB, as it would disperse badgers over a wider area more quickly and others would move in to take over territory that they had vacated.
A whole host of badger and animal rights groups have come out to oppose the cull. ‘Team Badger,’ consisting of well known groups such as the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports, the Badger Trust, including a number of celebrities (most notably Brian May), have been involved in a mass publicity campaign, through the media and by holding a series of well-attended speeches and meetings. They also created an online e-petition, calling on the cull to be banned. Within 3 weeks of being launched it reached over 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be debated in parliament.
Animal rights and vegan out-reach organisation, VIVA!, have been calling on the public to boycott the milk and dairy industry, stating the fact that it is dairy farmers and their lobbying groups initiating the cull.
Grassroots group ‘Stop the Cull’ have also been hitting the headlines, leaking sensitive information on the cull on their website and gathering information to help them take ‘non-violent direct action’ to disrupt the cull when it starts. The Hunt Saboteurs Association have also released statements saying they have recruited a number of new activists who are willing to go with them into the cull areas when it starts to sabotage it. Hunt saboteurs groups and groups associated with ‘Stop the Cull’ claim they will turn up at night with powerful torches, air horns and wearing hi-visibility vests to scare off badgers and make the job of the marksmen difficult. Marksmen carrying out the shooting have been instructed to disarm their weapons and move away from the area if the come across demonstrators at night.
It was thought that the cull may have to be delayed until next year following the failed judicial reviews, appeals and delays in the issuing of the licenses allowing farmers to carry out the cull. But last week the second license was issued allowing farmers and marksmen to shoot badgers in Somerset and it now looks like it is set to start imminently. Police leave for Gloucestershire Constabulary has been cancelled until January in anticipation of protests and the media circus is sure to arrive soon. Whether the badger cull will be effectively carried out it yet to be seen, but it is almost certain that there are many who will be out in the countryside prepared to stop it.
People interested in helping to stop the cull or help with donations of money or equipment have been urged to get in touch with their local hunt saboteurs group or to contact Stop the Cull. Details for these, and other resources regarding the cull can be found below.
Stop the Cull (Coalition of groups and activists collecting information and coordinating groups to take action against the cull)
Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs (Hunt saboteurs in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire who’ll be taking ‘non-violent direct action’ to try and stop the cull)
Hunt Saboteurs Association (National Hunt Saboteurs website with press releases and information about the cull)
Team Badger (Coalition made up of the Badger Trust, RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and others)