Gloucestershire's rifles at the ready as badger cull gets the go-ahead

Farmers whose herds have been ravaged by TB see the controversial programme as the only answer. Tom Peck reports

A A A

Beneath the rolling Gloucestershire hills they scurry, their noses wet as they feast on the abundance of slugs and earthworms that the temperate English countryside provides.

But there is trouble in badger paradise, with the Environment Secretary "strongly minded" to approve a cull on the much-loved creatures on the grounds that they spread bovine tuberculosis through cattle populations.

In the impending war on badgers, Gloucestershire is Ground Zero. Almost a third of cattle herds in the county are infected, meaning costly restrictions on their sale and movement. But as scientists debate the effectiveness of a cull, which would be carried out after tests next summer and which would be met with opposition from animal rights activists, many farmers are desperate to get started.

Jan Rowe, 66, who keeps 180 dairy cows and as many beef cows on his 550 acres at Whalley Farm in Whittington, near Cheltenham, has had one year free of TB in his herds since 2000. He is advancing plans for marksmen to work their way through the area killing the badgers. In the Seventies he says he had three badger sets. Now there are five or six, and several sub-populations.

Mr Rowe said: "The disease is spreading to the north and the east, it is spreading to llama, deer, sheep, pigs, even domestic cats. It is nigh on out of control. There should have been a cull 15 or 20 years ago. More badgers will die now than would have then. It is not the badgers we are trying to fight, it's TB."

TB spreads aerobically from animal to animal, much like the common cold. As badgers live in stuffy underground setts in such close proximity, it spreads quickly among them. Where more than one badger population exists within range of another, they mark out territory by building latrines, effectively fortifications of excrement around their setts. If the population is carrying tuberculosis, these latrines, which sit where cows graze, are rife with the disease.

The badger became protected under the 1973 Protection of Badgers Act, which sought to stop badger baiting. Since then there has been little farmers can do to control populations.

The proposed cull leaves the problem of perturbation. Surviving badgers from a largely culled set have shown a propensity to go wandering around the countryside, dazed and confused, spreading the disease yet further.

The new cull proposes farmers join in syndicates which cover areas of several hundred square kilometres, with clear boundaries, such as rivers, coasts or motorways. Marksmen will shoot the nocturnal creatures by night.

But they will not do so without a fight. Adam Henson, of BBC's Countryfile, received mail from animal rights activists last month threatening to "burn his children" merely for reporting on the cull proposals.

Mr Rowe said: "If you have to live with this disease you realise you will have to put up with [activists'] nonsense to get something done. We might get a few nutters trying to sabotage, but it will be very hard for them to find out, over such a wide area, when or where the culling is going on."

Mr Rowe estimates the cull would have to go on for a minimum of four years, or until such a point as vaccines are ready. The aim is to kill 70 per cent of the badger population, estimated in England as between 288,000 and half a million.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower