The UK’s badger cull begins its second year

Badgers beware: the second phase of the government’s plan to eliminate tuberculosis in cows is under way. Farmers now have a licence to shoot to kill. But will it be effective?

In the lush countryside of Gloucestershire and Somerset, a battle is under way, one that pits the dairy and beef industries against ’Britain’s best loved wild mammal’, the badger.

Badger culls are expected to resume this week, as part of the government’s four-year plan to cull their numbers by 70%. The plan was first rolled out last year, to a deafening roar of protest from an alliance of celebrities, activists, MPs and the general public.

Why would the government turn on badgers — again? They say culling is necessary to reduce bovine tuberculosis, which is carried by badgers and transmitted to cattle. Last year, the disease resulted in more than 26,000 cattle being slaughtered, which in turn led to 1,800 badgers being culled — although this was short of the initial 2,500 target. This year, farmers have a licence to kill at least 615 badgers in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset over the next six weeks.

But pro-badger protesters are renewing their efforts to disrupt what they say is a bloody and ineffective campaign. Protest groups have spent around £50,000 on specialist equipment such as night-vision goggles and heat-seeking equipment in order to locate badgers and free them from cages and traps. Protesters are particularly annoyed that there will be no independent oversight this year to assess the cull’s effectiveness.

Last year the independent expert panel appointed by DEFRA concluded that the first stage of the cull had been a failure; they were neither effective or humane. Targets were not met and poor marksmanship had increased the risk of badgers dying slow and painful deaths. As a result, initial plans to extend the cull to ten new areas in south-west England have been scrapped.

But farmers say the measures work. One commented this week that his farm had been declared TB-free for the first time in more than a decade after 92 badgers were shot during last year’s cull. For those haunted by memories of loading carcass after carcass of dead cows onto trucks, this is a scheme that must not be abandoned.

A black and white issue?

Some say the culls are vital for the future of the British dairy and beef industries. While we may squirm over the killings of Britain’s badgers, wild animal populations must be controlled, and farmers, many of whom struggle to make a living anyway, need their livelihoods protected.

But others warn that not only are the culls being carried out in a haphazard and harmful manner, they could also make the TB situation worse if targets are not met, as fleeing badgers spread the disease more widely. This is a scheme that has not been proven to work, and should be stopped.

You Decide

  1. Are you in favour of the badger cull or against it? State your reasons.
  2. Do animals have rights? Should they have rights?

Activities

  1. Make a poster with key facts and figures relating to the British badger cull.
  2. Culls take place all over the world. Find some examples, and make a short case study of one, explaining the reasons behind the cull and methods used.

Some People Say...

“People must think with their heads, not their hearts, when it comes to animal culls.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I live in the city — I’ve never even seen a badger.
People who live in urban areas and rarely see badgers often like to think of them as cute, benign creatures, based on popular children’s books which depict them as noble and brave; such as Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ by Colin Dann. Those who live in rural environments are less likely to take such a rosy view.
Why not?
Badgers became a protected species in the 1970s, in response to the brutal practice of badger-baiting. Since then their numbers have increased dramatically, causing havoc for farmers. Badgers are also known to have quite an aggressive bite, and they also attack and eat hedgehogs.

Word Watch

Celebrities
Actress Judi Dench, Queen guitarist Brian May and Sir Roger Moore were among the celebrities who voiced their opposition to the cull. In 2012, May launched the Team Badger campaign to raise public awareness and petition the government to end it.
Tuberculosis
Scientific evidence has shown that bovine TB can be transmitted between cattle, from badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers, and between badgers. But it is still not yet clear how big a role badgers play in the spread of the disease.
DEFRA
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Marksmanship
Under the government’s scheme, trained marksmen are permitted to shoot the badgers. Most of the shooting is carried out at dusk or at night, since the animals are nocturnal.

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