Environment, Science

Bother and badger

Readers with a particular affinity for badgers should look away now. In fact, if you have a distaste for political bandwagoning or any interest in how your tax money is spent then this article may also annoy you.

The first licence for large-scale badger cull in England was issued this week for a 300 square-kilometre pilot area in West Gloucestershire.

For six weeks a year, farmers in the area will be permitted to cull at least 70% of the local badger population in an effort to curtail bovine tuberculosis. The pilot is purportedly a science-based policy that will be used to test the effective of shooting free-running badgers in the coalition government’s hope of issuing further licences.

But the move appears to be a short-term political calculation which carries considerable risks and is laughably unscientific.

First, the issuing of the licence follows an extensive, 10 year scientific trial of culling which concluded that cage-trapping and shooting could reduce TB by a pitiful 16%; the licence doesn’t even cover this form of culling.

The government’s plans could actually increase the rate of TB, as traumatised badgers have a habit of leaving culling areas and infecting more cattle. Further, the number of badgers in the trial area hasn’t even been counted, so the pilot scheme can only consider if the culling is humane and if farmers can deliver the results.

This also means that adherence to a maximum number of culls specified by the government will be difficult, putting the government at risk of causing local extinctions and violating the Bern Convention, a European treaty to protect wildlife. On these grounds Lord Krebs, the scientist who instigated the former scientific trial, has dismissed the cull as “a crazy scheme”.

While the licence will likely have a negligible or even negative impact on reducing bovine tuberculosis, farmers will also lose out financially, being forced to foot the bill for continuous culling every year.

The calculated cost to the taxpayer also deserves consideration, especially as it conveniently excludes the costs of armed police who will be used to deter protesters. Yes, bovine TB is a terrible scourge, but second only to this awful idea.

21/09/2012

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