A WILDLIFE leader in the North East has condemned a pilot cull which is set to kill up to 3,000 badgers.
“Badgers are a protected animal, and a really important part of the ecology of the British countryside,” said Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
“Shooting them at night indiscriminately is nothing short of disgusting and a very sad day for conservation.”
The first licence was issued this week to allow the shooting of badgers on 300 farms in Gloucestershire.
The aim is to pave the way for more widespread culls in an attempt to combat bovine TB (bTB), a disease which affects both cattle and badgers.
Farmers say the cull is necessary to stop the spread of TB from badgers to cattle, which costs livestock owners and taxpayers millions of pounds a year.
However, Mike says: “There is no scientific basis for culling. It is estimated that 70% of badgers in any given area will have to be killed to produce a 16% drop in bovine TB, and even that is not proven. It does not stand up to scrutiny.
“Culling will not work and it will only make things worse. Surviving badgers will be disperse into a wider area.
“I have dealt with badgers for years, including in Gloucestershire, and culling is not appropriate either scientifically or morally. This is polarising opinion between landowners, farmers, the public and conservationists, when we have worked successfully together for years.
“I fully sympathise with farmers whose cattle are affected by TB. The trust is very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease.
“However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer. Our involvement with this issue over a long period of time has led us to the conclusion that a sustained programme of vaccination, alongside improved bio-security measures, would be the best means of tackling bTB. The last Government and Wales rejected culling. But the Coalition Government seems hell-bent on a cull, despite all the evidence that it will not work.”
Eleven wildlife trusts are now working on badger vaccination programmes to prove that this is the best way to tackle bTB.
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has run a vaccination programme at seven of its nature reserves, including a dairy farm.
The RSPB will also carry out vaccination on its land in Gloucestershire near the cull area.
“There are also concerns about shooting free-running badgers at night,” said Mike Pratt.
“Wounded badgers may be left to suffer, other wildlife killed and there is a danger to people. Shooting at night is called lamping and it has been illegal in this country for a long time because of the dangers.”
He said that the cull decision smacked of “muddled thinking” which saw the Government back off plans to sell publicly-owned woodland and a proposed pilot scheme in Northumberland to destroy the nests of buzzards to protect pheasants reared for shooting.
There were also echoes of the culling of grey seals on the Farne Islands off Northumberland more than 40 years ago.
“The culling of badgers is an inappropriate measure and we will regret it,” he said. Two of Northumberland Wildlife Trust's patrons, TV presenters and naturalists Chris Packham and Bill Oddie, oppose the cull.
Chris Packham said: “I feel sick that the science has been forsaken and that badgers will be sacrificed.”
Bill Oddie said: “It must be stopped.”
Northumberland Wildlife Trust is urging people to contact their MPs and sign the anti-badger cull online petitions by logging on at directgov.co.uk/petitions/38257, or 38degrees.org.uk/page/badgers -petition, and teambadger.org
The 38 Degrees petition was nearing 70,000 signatures last night, while the directgov petition has passed that figure.
Why TB shooting is necessary, but not in our region
NO badgers will be culled in the North East, stresses a leading Northumberland farmer.
Hans Porksen farms near Cambo and is chairman of the National Farmers’ Union regional livestock board.
He said: “This issue is very confusing for people but we don’t have to kill any badgers in the region because all of our badgers are healthy and don’t have TB.
“There is no reason why anybody should kill a badger here. It is only necessary in areas of the country where TB is rife.” According to the Environment Department (Defra) around 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2011 as part of TB controls with almost a quarter of farms under movement restrictions last year in the South West – a hotspot for the disease.
Controlling TB in cattle has cost the taxpayer £500m in the past decade.
An outbreak on a farm costs a farmer around £12,000 and the taxpayer £22,000, according to official estimates.
“If we don’t get rid of infected cattle and any other animals then we will not succeed in getting rid of TB,” said Mr Porksen.
“It is not the aim of farmers to kill wildlife willy nilly.
“I quite like badgers and we have a lot on our farm and they are fine.
“But it is safe to say that, in areas where TB is rife, the majority of badgers will have the disease.
“TB is a horrendous illness. It is devastating and if we don’t control it in cattle and wildlife we will have the disease forever. To be effective we have to get rid of it in wildlife and cattle. It is the only way forward.
“But it does not mean that every badger in the UK is going to be killed.”
Rachael Gillbank, regional spokeswoman for the NFU, said: “We don’t have bTB in the region and we are not calling for a cull.
“We are looking at everything we can do to keep this disease out of our region.”
This involves urging farmers to take especial care over where they source cattle and testing of animals.