Yet another badger rant

The science shows that culling badgers would spread, not limit the spread of cattle TB, according to Roy Hattersley, writing in the Guardian today

.. the assumption that culling will reduce the incidence of the disease is wrong. Indeed, unless we brush aside the work of Britain’s most distinguished conservation scientists, we have to conclude that the sort of cull proposed by Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific adviser, will do more harm than good.

Well said, Roy. He points out that killing badgers will only placate the influential National Farmers’ Union leaders who have either no rational idea what to do or who see more effective responses as too costly.

The argument is that limited killing of badgers would be counter-productive. David McDonald of Oxford University calculated that a cull in Cornwall – the central focus – would cut the TB incidence there by 20% but increase the level outside the cull area by 27%.

An unlimited culling of badgers would surely be an environmental crime of immense proprtions. No government needs to placate farmers that badly. Can’t we just pay them to leave the badgers alone or to vaccinate their cattle?

Roy Hattersley, points out that, even if the government doesn’t follow the simple moral path and refuse the cull, there would be a serious political fallout.

there is no doubt that, should ministers decide to follow his (the chief scientist’s) advice, they would unleash a countrywide campaign that would make the pro-hunting protesters seem half-hearted.

Well, I’m not holding my breath on the government’s taking an ethical stance on this. However, as a distinguished old-Labour politician, Hattersley is probably pretty shrewd when it comes to judging what might have influence on the Department of the Environment. Let’s hope that a government keen to paint itself as green doesn’t miss his message.

Why do some farmers hate Badgers?

Badgers are always the first up against the wall when there’s a hint of TB in cattle. The BBC reported today that “Science chief urges badger cull.”

This is despite there being plenty of evidence that killing badgers doesn’t even stop the spread of TB in cattle.

The most recent study by the Independent Scientific Group, published in June, also suggested badgers played a role in the spread of bTB, but warned that culling would have to be so extensive it would be uneconomical.
Meanwhile, conservation groups, including the Badger Trust, argue the disease can be contained by improving the cattle-testing regime and introducing tighter restrictions on cattle movements.
(Source: Another BBC post)

Killing badgers is not popular. In 2006, 96% of 47,000 people who responded to a government consultation were against it. Yet another pointless waste of money on a public consultation that is going to be ignored, then?

As the British Badger Trust says:

The badger is one of Britain’s best loved and iconic animals and as such is part of our National Heritage. They are a poignant symbol of the British countryside and a protected species.

A “protected species”, note.

In case, you assume that Britain is awash with wild mammals, especially badgers, it isn’t. The English countryside bears the scars of decades of agribiz and can barely furnish up a half-eaten water-vole for your environmental pleasure. The badger is one of the few surviving wild mammals of any size.

Barely anyone has ever seen a badger, outside of children’s book illustrations. There are a handful of badger refuges where you can watch them from a hide. I have seen a road-killed badger up close. Once. In almost the only area of England that is neither developed nor mountainous. (Probably not for long.)

Badgers are not just threatened by farmers who have somehow come to believe that their cattle can catch badger diseases.

There is also a “sport” (I use the term ironically) called badger baiting (the clue’s in the name) which involves sending dogs into badger setts and killing them. This is understandably illegal. Badger Watch has a News section that consists of recent prosecutions. So, how is it not criminal to consider gassing hundreds of badgers. Even the repellent humans who kill them for sport don’t kill more than one or two at a time. The cull is aimed at most of the findable badger population.

This isn’t a problem because badgers are really cute (although they are.) It’s a problem because it’s yet another misguided assault on an increasingly fragile ecosystem, driven by short-term economic goals, at a time when we are all supposed to be coming to recognise the interdependence of life in our increasingly fragile eco-systems.

There is an online parliamentary e-petition against culling. Please sign it if you live in the UK and you don’t support culling and you can bring yourself to believe there’s any point.