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Michael McCarthy: The badger cull failed because Defra insisted farmers pay for it


The core reason for the current failure of the Government’s badger cull policy is simple: the insistence by Conservative ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that the farmers would have to pay for it themselves.

This was the new Tory idea, the Big Society, in action. It was also a Government desperate to cut expenditure wherever it could.

But it meant that the farmers chose a much cheaper, but very much less reliable method of killing the animals than that used in the nine-year-long badger cull trial – paid for by the Government – which was cage-trapping and shooting.

Using that method, badgers were led into baited cages, where they could be shot (ugly though many people will find the idea) with complete efficiency. And 11,000 of them were. It was tried and trusted.

But it costs £2,500 per hectare, and instead the farmers opted for something costing ten times less – “free shooting” (quickly relabelled by Defra as “controlled shooting”). This means marksmen lying in wait outside badger setts and trying to blast the animals as they come out. In the evening, that is. In the half-light. Which soon becomes the dark.

The system is entirely unproven, with very obvious risks, and it is the dangers, and the complexities of setting it up and licensing it over the last year, which have both focused the criticism of the whole scheme by its vociferous opponents, and brought about the delays which have for the time being led to the farmers asking for its postponement.

Whether or not it will ever go ahead now is debatable.  Badger culling is unpopular with the public, and as the next election approaches, its vote-losing propensities will loom ever larger.