Badger cull: Government accused of backtracking on pledge as it expands trapping and shooting of animals

‘A lot of the public and politicians have been misled,’ says campaigner

Jane Dalton
Saturday 27 June 2020 21:24
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Hidden video shows badger 'alive for a minute after culling'

Ministers are being accused of breaking a pledge to end the culling of badgers, instead expanding projects to trap and shoot the animals across England.

Another 100,000 badgers could be killed by the end of the year as the government prepares to broaden culling from Cornwall to Cumbria, activists claim. That would add to the estimated 100,000 already killed since 2013, in an effort to protect the dairy farming industry from bovine tuberculosis (TB).

In March, following a review, the government had announced the phasing-out of its controversial mass badger culls, replacing them with vaccines, in a change of strategy widely welcomed by nature campaigners.

But Natural England, the government’s nature adviser, has this year approved seven badger cull licences in new areas and three in existing areas, and the Badger Trust expects 10 more to be agreed by the end of August. Each licence runs for four years. Fifteen new licences were issued last year and 11 in 2018.

“A lot of the public and politicians have been misled by this policy,” said Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the trust. “The government is betraying public trust and carrying out an act of ecological vandalism. At a conservative estimate, this will result in 60,000 more dead badgers this year, but the number could well rise to over 100,000.”

When the plan to inoculate animals was announced, ministers openly warned that culling would remain an option where scientific opinion favoured it.

Cull supporters say that killing badgers reduces TB in cows because they spread infection, but opponents say culling is ineffective.

The Badger Trust, the RSPCA and others have written to environment secretary George Eustice, highlighting the vaccination announcement, saying: “The resulting headlines across the media, supported by the Defra press office, talked of a seismic shift in policy and an imminent end to badger culling, a view now largely accepted by both politicians and the wider public."

The groups claimed that “key aspects of the TB strategy review have now been dropped, and plans to cull badgers even longer term and across the whole country have been laid bare”.

Mr Dyer warned that expanding culling could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England inhabited since the ice age, in a programme that has cost taxpayers £70m so far.

He claimed the government had not yet taken any action to replace culling with vaccination. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it planned to introduce vaccination in specific areas where four-year culling licences had ended.

The letter to Mr Eustice was also backed by Born Free, Ifaw, Wild Justice and the League Against Cruel Sports.

A spokesperson for Defra said: “We want to eradicate bovine TB by 2038, and while badger culling is a necessary part of this, no one wants to see it continue indefinitely.

“As our response to the Godfray review set out, we will phase out intensive culling in the next few years. That is why we intend to start deploying badger vaccination in areas where the four-year cull cycle has ended.”

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