Terence Blacker: The danger in attacking Mr Brock

The government will quickly find itself in deep difficulty with a sentimental, animal-loving electorate

Related Topics

There are few certainties in British political life right now, but here is one. If the government follows through on its recent promise to allow the culling of badgers in areas infected by bovine TB, it will quickly find itself in trouble. Conservatives will be seen as the nasty party once more; there will be blubbing and hand-wringing among the Liberal Democrats. And, at the end of it all, the decision to allow farmers to blast away at one of the nation's favourite wild animals may well serve to spread the disease it was intended to eradicate.

The temptation for Tories to declare war on Mr Brock, as Beatrix Potter called her badger in The Tale of Mr. Tod, must have been irresistible. Bovine TB, which is spread by infected badgers, caused 37,000 cattle in England and Wales to be slaughtered in 2009, costing the taxpayer more than £60m. In south-west England and Wales, one in seven herds is infected. Sanctioning a cull would endear the government to its supporters in the farming community and cost nothing. Under the privatised scheme proposed by the Agriculture Minister, farmers would be asked to do what many of them rather enjoy doing anyway – shoot wild animals.

No government, though, should ignore the level of intense, somewhat sentimental adoration in which certain species are held. We may eat more meat than ever, the welfare of animals who provide our food may be a matter of sublime indifference to most shoppers, but the idea of one of our favourite species being killed, for whatever reason, will be cue for protest and high emotion.

The last government discovered how strongly people feel about the fox. Badgers are in a different league of popularity. Unlike foxes, they have not developed a fondness for snacking on children. In the highly subjective matter of sympathy for wild animals, looks are everything; badgers are blessed, like hedgehogs, with an appearance which causes the human heart to melt. If bovine TB were spread by rats, the few people who objected to a nationwide cull would be regarded as distinctly odd.

It is intended that the badger cull starts in May – just in time for the BBC's Springwatch programme, as it happens – and, more importantly, in the middle of the breeding season. The government will quickly find itself in deep difficulty with a sentimental, animal-loving electorate.

The practical problems will be no less difficult. The combination of protesters seeking to protect badgers and enthusiastic farmers, armed with high-speed rifles and hunting at night, is unlikely to be a happy one. At least, with the demonstrations against fox-hunting, there was no danger of the demonstrators becoming the prey. Beyond the risk to human life, there is the inevitability of badgers being wounded and dying a slow and painful death.

Even without the intervention of animal rights protesters, the cull is only to be successful if it is organised and comprehensive. A farmer might, through lamping at night and setting up hides above badger setts, manage to clear his land, but if his neighbour is unco-operative, the effect will be minimal. The National Trust, which has a record of being steered by its animal-loving membership, is unlikely to welcome guns and traps on its land.

A cull could easily do more harm than good. Research shows that while badger numbers decrease in the area where they are being shot, the effect in the longer term is to spread the disease across a wider area. The government has sought to obviate the problem of infected animals moving out of areas where they are being shot by insisting that a minimum area of 150km should be culled but, logically, the idea that badgers will not move outside this arbitrary limit sounds like a nonsense.

In his new spirit of honesty, Tony Blair has admitted he never quite came to grips with the fox-hunting debate, and that wrong decisions had been made. His successor would be wise to learn from that lesson, and remember that one should never underestimate the animal passion of the British.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little