Environment Secretary Owen Paterson defends badger cull


Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has defended the controversial plan for a badger cull to tackle bovine TB, warning that the disease would cost the taxpayer £1 billion unless action was taken.

The disease imposed a "shattering emotional and financial cost" on farmers and rural communities and it was essential to take every possible step to deal with the reservoir of the disease in the badger population, he said.

Addressing the Conservative party conference, he said wind farms should only be allowed where they were "acceptable" to the local community and promised his department would make it "as simple as possible" for shale gas projects to go ahead.

In his keynote speech to activists in Birmingham he encouraged people to support British farmers in the same way they got behind Team GB's Olympic sport stars by buying locally produced food.

But the main threat to cattle farmers was from bovine TB, he said, telling the conference that 26,000 cattle were slaughtered last year at a cost to the taxpayer of £100 million, due to the disease.

That cost would rise to £1 billion over the next decade "if we don't take action", he said.

"Let's be clear. Bovine TB imposes a shattering financial and emotional cost on our farmers, their families and communities. This will only get worse if we continue the cowardly policy of inaction pursued by Labour in government. Let me tell you, there is no easy solution."

Despite £15.5 million being spent on vaccine research, there was no workable solution in the short term.

"We must, therefore, learn from the experience of other countries. We have to use every tool at our disposal and that's why we're trialling a badger cull.

"We need healthy wildlife living alongside healthy cattle. Only if we work to eradicate the reservoir of TB in our badgers, will we have the strong and prosperous dairy industry the public wishes to see."

He also warned of "unintended consequences" from the renewable energy industry as he insisted that local communities should be given a say in developments such as wind farms.

"In my part of the world, local residents - 300 of whom turned up at a public meeting last week - are deeply concerned about the impact of proposed wind farm pylons on their communities," the North Shropshire MP said.

"Nearby, dairy farmers are being outbid for land by those who want to grow maize specifically for anaerobic digestion. These are the unintended consequences of renewable technology. They risk upsetting the delicate balance of interests that underpins our living, working countryside."

He said he would work with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) to ensure the impact of new technologies on rural communities was "fully" taken into account.

"The relationship between renewable energy sources and the communities we expect to host them must be appropriate and sustainable and, above all, acceptable to local people", he said.

Energy Minister John Hayes said generation has to be in the right place.

"This is not just about aesthetics, though aesthetics of course will colour all I do," he said.

Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans for a more generous tax regime to encourage research and development of shale gas, in the hope of generating jobs and cheap energy from reserves identified in Lancashire and around the UK.

Mr Hayes said that it had "enormous potential" but insisted that "rigorous" environmental standards would be put in place.

"The market reforms we put in place must not be a barrier to reaping the benefits if shale gas reaches its potential. The British consumer deserves nothing less," he said.

Mr Paterson said that while shale gas policy was the responsibility of Decc, his own Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued the permits for drilling and extraction.

"I've made it very clear we want to make that as simple as possible without compromising any environmental standards," he said.