Badger cull pits farmers against urban activists

A great badger cull has begun after the beloved British mammal was found to be spreading disease among cows. Campaigners are furious – but farmers say this is a matter for countryfolk alone.

A young man stands on a plinth outside parliament, surrounded by dancers in black and white fur. He looks down into the camera and begins to rap: ‘We love the badgers and they matter to our nanas, Cameron where’s your manners? Why those cameras try to scan us?’

The song, ‘Badger Swagger’, features a starry cast including Slash of Guns ‘N’ Roses, Brian May of Queen and a member of Massive Attack. Even the BBC’s beloved naturalist David Attenborough is sampled. All have united in common cause against a plan to cull up to 70% of Britain’s 300,000 badgers, a woodland mammal with a proud place in English folklore.

Why would the government want to kill badgers? Because loveable though they may be, these animals spread a disease that is devastating British cattle. Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a deadly bacteria which attacks cows’ lungs and usually results in death. In the past year it has forced the slaughter of nearly 38,000 cows.

If these corpses were laid end to end, says farmer John Yorke, they would stretch for 50 miles. Yorke, whose family owns a 3,000 acre estate filled with rich agricultural land, is one of many farmers who vigorously support the badger cull.

Over the last decade £500 million has been spent on vaccinating and killing cattle in a fruitless effort to stop bTB. The death of a few rodents may seem a small price to pay for ending such a scourge. But there is a catch: many scientists seriously doubt whether the badger cull will work.

There is no easy way to judge whether a badger has TB before opening fire. And shooting a colony of healthy badgers is not only pointless but potentially harmful: their vacated habitat may well be claimed by other animals which do carry the disease.

So far, trials have been inconclusive. One major study of a cull showed a drop of up to 16% in bovine TB – a modest impact, but not totally insignificant.

Town and country

This is a cruel, speculative experiment with little scientific basis, say ‘Stop the Cull’ activists. Mr Badger is an indispensable feature of Britain’s famously lovely and bucolic natural heritage – he must not be sacrificed to the bloodlust of a few callous farmers who only care for animals as means to a profit.

Why, ask farmers, do these ignorant city folk insist on meddling in country affairs? Anyone can romanticise the countryside from afar, but nature is not just a collection of cuddly animals for us to coo at. Bovine TB is a threat not only to cows, but to the livelihoods of farmers everywhere. This campaign is about more than badgers, they say: it’s an attack on a whole rural lifestyle by an arrogant class of clueless celebrities and self-righteous urban rebels.

You Decide

  1. Which animals are an important part of your national culture? Would you be sad if they were killed?
  2. Should we value animals kept for livestock more highly than wild ones?

Activities

  1. Role play: in pairs, stage a debate over the badger cull between a cattle farmer and an animal rights activist.
  2. Research other examples of public health fears that prompted mass culls of animals: the foot and mouth outbreak, for example.

Some People Say...

“City types have no right to meddle in countryside affairs.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ve never even seen a badger.
You’re not alone. But if you’re British they were probably part of your childhood in stories like ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’. Almost every country has its own folktales about native wildlife, and many people feel an attachment to animals associated with their national culture even if they rarely interact with them.
But should we really base conservation policy on sentimental fairytales?
Perhaps not. On the other hand, idealised versions of the landscape are an important part of a nation’s identity. These stories provide an emotional link to a natural world that is under threat and, many would argue, in urgent need of protection.

Word Watch

Badgers
A grey-black rodent with a white stripe along its head and back, related to otters, stoats, weasels and skunks.
Estate
A large property including houses and land, usually including a mansion. Estates are traditionally handed down in a family from generation to generation. John Yorke, for instance, can trace his ancestry back to the time of the Norman Conquest in the 11th entury.
Habitat
The natural home of an organism such as an animal or plant. A badger’s habitat is called a sett.
Bucolic
An adjective evoking the simple, beautiful and serene aspects of countryside life.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.