Two weeks ago the government decided to go ahead with a pilot badger cull in two areas of England, namely the districts of West Somerset and in the Forest of Dean. The intention behind the cull is to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle, a pernicious disease which once discovered can result in whole herds being destroyed, and the farmer's livelihood with it.
There are so many reasons why this campaign is insane: an online petition to Number 10 has already garnered over 100,000 signatures, with the intention of triggering a debate in parliament. The main reason is the terrible waste of life. The cull could see badger populations decline by 70%, with healthy badgers being slaughtered as 'collateral damage.' There is no question about this. If less than 70% are eradicated, according to research undertaken over nine years, the spread of TB might even increase, and so it has to happen.
While it is true, marksmen have been hired to exterminate the badgers, there is no guarantee that that every shot will be effective, since they are likely to flee in terror, creating a difficult target. A charity whose sole purpose is to rescue badgers is expecting to receive many wounded and distressed animals in the coming months. They will be the lucky ones: others will hole up somewhere, mutilated and maimed, consigned to a slow and horrible death.
The dispersal of the terrified creatures, faced with this ruthless and senseless onslaught, is the second reason why the pilot is a complete waste of time. Perturbation' is the technical name for the badgers' flight from danger and so instead of containing the disease, the act of culling actually spreads it. This was the conclusion of the research carried out in 2003 and analysed in 2007 by Lord Krebs, one of the government's most respected scientific advisers.
His view of the cull is very clear. He calls it a 'crazy scheme' and suggests instead instituting a vaccination programme for the badgers and vulnerable herds of cattle. But there is a problem here. Countries in the EU will not accept beef from cattle that have been vaccinated, especially after the BCE scare in 2002. And so the Farmers Union have given the cull their full backing, emphasising economics over ecology.
So what are we left with? On the one hand we give our children story books with animal characters, ('The Wind in the Willows', Beatrice Potter) and fully rounded personalities (a little gruff, but warm hearted and charismatic). And on the other, we sanction the demonisation of these elusive creatures, leading to their wished for extinction. The wording is extreme but intentional. Remember the word cull and kill have the same root.