Badger cull is set to divide

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GOVERNMENT plans to launch a badger culling pilot scheme in a bid to curb cattle tuberculosis have been welcomed by the National Farmers Union, which says it’s a ‘necessary step’ to tackle the ‘inexorable’ spread of the problem.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman last week (July 19) announced a consultation period which, provided there are no major objections, could see the pilot scheme launched next spring, with wider implementation in 2013.

Whilst bovine TB is a major problem in the South West – where the baulk of Britain’s 32,000 cattle killings occurred last year – it also a growing issue in other areas of the country, costing taxpayers £100 million in 2010.

And the union’s senior policy adviser for the East of England said that whilst culling is regrettable, it remains the only way of managing the ‘reservoir of disease’ in the badger population.

Sandra Nichols said: “This is a really serious issue which is costing huge amounts of money not only to farmers, but also to taxpayers.

“Culling is obviously a regrettable option but despite years of research, experts are no nearer to finding a vaccination for bovine TB – leaving the government with little choice.

“This is a necessary step to tackle an unsustainable problem.”

On the advice of its top science officials, the government concluded that culling in hotspot areas, where the disease is carried via badgers from farm to farm, could reduce cases of bovine TB by 16 per cent.

However, many groups question the accuracy of these claims and suggest that shooting badgers – as the government plans to do by hiring licensed marksmen – could have the opposite effect.

Richard Lawrence, an ecologist for the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity (BRCC), believes killing localised badgers will merely encourage others to move in from further afield, increasing the risk of bovine TB being spread.

He added: “I’d be very surprised if badger culling actually takes place.

“I’m sure the Badger Trust will challenge the decision and take it all the way to court if necessary, so it will be interesting to see how committed the government is to these proposals.

“Obviously the government has received advice from a raft of experts on the issue, but they (the plans) don’t seem to be feasible.

“Under the plans, 70 per cent of badgers in hotspot areas would need to be culled to meet these targets and I can’t see that happening if I’m honest.”