Farm minister resolute about badger cull despite death threats


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The Independent Online

Farming minister David Heath has vowed not to be intimidated by opponents of the badger cull after revealing he has received death threats for his part in the controversial scheme.

The Liberal Democrat MP said that he fully accepted people's right to oppose the impending cull, but told The Independent he was "saddened by the misinformation and ignorance" exhibited by some opponents and by the tactics of intimidation they deployed.

"I do get the odd threat and it's not particularly nice," he said. "I understand people feeling strongly, but I don't understand people feeling that the right response is violence and intimidation. But I'm not going to be intimidated from doing the right thing."

Together with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Mr Heath has become a target for campaigners angry at the Government's plan to reduce tuberculosis in cattle partly by culling the population of badgers, which are widely blamed for spreading the disease among cows.

Mr Heath revealed the intimidation he had suffered after Mr Paterson said earlier this year that he'd had more death threats since becoming the Environment Secretary last September than in his previous role as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Mr Heath said that while the death of any animal is sad, he was puzzled by the strength of opposition to the badger cull, given it is legal to kill animals such as deer, wild boar, foxes and grey squirrels to control their numbers.

"It is an incredibly emotive subject and I understand that the badger is an iconic species. But I don't understand how we have a hierarchy of species. Why are hedgehogs not something people care about? It seems that once you have a public outcry, people identify with it and attach themselves to it," Mr Heath said.

Even the Farming minister had to admit he could see the appeal of the black and white creatures, however. "I suppose you only have to look at badgers though, they're so cute," he observed while attending an excursion to vaccinate badgers against TB - another plank in the Government's bid to reduce the disease in cattle.

A trial cull of badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire, where bovine TB is rife, is due to begin with the aim of extending it across much of the country if it is deemed to be humane, efficient and safe.

However, the trial is highly controversial, with some opponents targeting farmers, marksmen, politicians and anyone else involved in the programme on moral grounds. As a result, participants are keeping the timing, location and every other detail of the cull secret for fear of reprisal if their identities are disclosed.

The badger cull is also opposed by many scientists who claim that fleeing badgers will spread the disease more widely while the badger vacuum created by the killings could attract infected animals from elsewhere.