Badger cull pause long overdue

The road has been long but it appears that the government is set to suspend the badger cull in light of evidence that it is not limiting the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Green peer Natalie Bennett praises the work of campaigners and the ongoing fight for wildlife protection in the UK.

Badger in the wild
Badger in the wild
Natalie Bennett

The Green Party, and many campaigners, have been saying since it was first mooted that the badger cull was unscientific, inhumane and more likely to spread tuberculosis infection than contain it. 

That argument has now been – rather quietly – accepted by the government, which yesterday announced it would “phase out” the badger cull.

Congratulations to everyone who worked for this day – it is yet one more demonstration that campaigning works, and that, sometimes at least, the facts and evidence can triumph over ideologically-driven policy disasters.

Everyone who has worked for this day – I think of the Somerset Badger Patrol members with whom I went out in 2013, the “Crush Cruelty” marchers in London in 2017 and the People’s Walk for Wildlife in 2018 – should be celebrating, and deserves to be congratulated.

Credit to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, which was one of the pioneers of badger vaccination – I visited them and heard about it in 2013, and everyone else who has worked so hard to make that happen at increasing numbers of locations around the country.

It is often easy to get discouraged when you’ve laboured for a clearly just and rightful cause, and see those efforts ignored and disparaged. But achieving change is a process. It is seldom just one event that achieves change.

Change needs people working in many different ways, from marchers on the streets and patrollers on dark fields, through to academics, NGOs and officials working more quietly for change.

And of course, you seldom get a complete victory, or, with this government anyway, the completely right choice.

Pause for thought

Given that the evidence of the impact of the cull is mixed at best for its cause, why a “pause” and not a simple “stop”?

It has been suggested the phase-out will take five years, time during which many more badgers will suffer and die unnecessarily, more cattle be infected through the “perturbation effect” – if badger groups are disturbed by shooting they disperse, and if they are infected with TB, that’s spreading the disease.

Yes, it will take time to train more badger vaccinators. But it should not take very much time at all to institute the better biosecurity and tighter controls on cattle movements that experts have long said are the key to controlling this disease which does cause great damage to farmers’ herds and distress to their owners.

The pressure needs to be kept up for quick action, but while doing that we can now turn even further attention to action to protect other wildlife in this hugely nature-depleted country.

Battle continues

The badger cull announcement came just as news emerged of yet another illegal case of persecution of raptors, a much-loved peregrine (and one followed closely since it was rescued from a collapsed nest in Dorset four years ago) dying from its injuries, blasted by a shotgun. That means its mate that could have bred with it this year almost certainly won’t – a further add-on loss.

Persecution of raptors is closely associated with management of land for hunting, particularly driven grouse shooting.

With the badger cull victory behind us, we can now look further to forward progress on this issue – ideally a ban on driven grouse shooting, certainly further restrictions on this destructive industry.

I know plans are well advanced this year for Hen Harrier Days around the country (Sheffield’s will be Sunday 9 August) – and the progress against the badger cull will add fresh energy to the campaign to protect our precious, rare raptors.