Cost and threats cast shadow over badger culls
Further doubt has been cast over summer badger culls – one of which is planned for Exmoor – just days after they were given the final go-ahead by th Government.
There are concerns that landowners may waver in the face of heavy costs and threats from animal rights activists.
Critics argue that by earmarking a third, reserve area in Dorset the Government is preparing for failure.
The pilot culls in west Somerset and Gloucestershire were delayed last year in the face of bad weather and a discovery that there were more badgers in the areas than previously estimated.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
But last week Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said that the shooting of around 5,000 badgers – equal to killing 70% of the population in the two areas, a requirement for the project's validity – would begin this June.
But with two district councils – Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury – voting last year to ban the shooting on their land and animal rights activists threatening to shame farmers who sign up, many seriously question whether enough landowners would co-operate.
Mary Creagh, Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, said that the cull could easily fall through if landowners in the pilot areas began to pull out.
"Reaching the 70 per cent coverage of the cull area has been a problem for the last year," she said. "This is why there's a reserve area and the very fact that there's a reserve area shows that the Government is planning for failure."
Westcountry farmers were among the audience at the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham last Wednesday when the Environment Secretary repeated his commitment to making sure the pilots went ahead.
He said tackling bovine TB cost the taxpayer £500 million in the past 10 years, and costs could reach £1 billion over the next decade if the disease was left unchecked.
But under Defra's plans, landowners taking part will have to bear all the costs of the shooting as well as the hiring of trained marksmen to kill the badgers, often during the night.
Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said that last year there had been just about enough landowners ready to pay for the shooting on their land, describing it as "pretty close".
Jay Tiernan, a spokesman for the Coalition of Badger Action Groups, said that he was confident of being able to derail the back-up plans in Dorset if this one failed, thereby aborting the entire project.
A second problem threatening to discredit the cull is uncertainty over the numbers of badgers.
Lord Krebs, who ran a ten-year review into whether culling could control bovine tuberculosis, said that the Government's estimates had varied so wildly that under the previous target farmers would have been asked to shoot 144 per cent of the badgers in Gloucestershire.
"To me what it says is that the practicality of killing 70 per cent is one question but the real question is how do they know what their starting number is?" he added.