The contrast is as marked as the black and white stripes on a badger’s snout. In England, badgers will be vaccinated to try and halt the spread of bovine TB. In Wales, badgers will be killed.
** UPDATE ** (15/04/09) The Bovine TB Advisory Group has published their final report (England only) on the work they have been involved with over the last three years (the group is winding up and passing the information onto the recently established Bovine TB Eradication Group). The report also has an excellent Bovine TB ‘the facts’ section, aimed at overcoming much of the misunderstanding felt in this complex topic (Annex D). **
As you might remember reading in our previous blogs on this issue, the tussle between badger protection and efforts to halt bovine TB has been long and complicated. Hundreds of Woodland Trust supporters objected to plans to cull badgers as an attempt to halt the spread of bovine TB because the science didn’t add up, and happily last year the option of wide spread culling was dismissed in England. DEFRA has now announced that a vaccine is soon to be trialled to combat bovine TB in England. We applaud the decision to listen to this evidence, not to cull badgers, but to try vaccination instead.
In Wales however, the Welsh Assembley has just announced it will carry out badger culling for the same reason. Slammed by the Woodland Trust as ‘pointless killing’, this decision is made despite ten years of objective, independent and peer-reviewed research that showed badger culling is not effective in tackling this dreadful disease, and that it can in fact make matters worse.
The culling in an “intensive” pilot area in Pembrokeshire will take place alongside other measures. The announcement shows a focus on completing these trials but not on gathering evidence of their effectiveness – but it is to be hoped the plans include some way of monitoring the individual effects of each type of action, otherwise how will we know whether or not the killing of up to 1,000 badgers has made any difference?
More worrying, Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones wants to bring in “secondary legislation” to enable the cull to take place. You can see the full announcement from Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones here. We are very concerned this might mean compulsory access for culling. Landowners like the Woodland Trust, who disagree with the cull, may be left without a choice.
Bovine TB is both financially crippling and heartbreaking for farmers. Badgers are one of our best-loved woodland mammals, and their local extinction could contravene the Bern Convention. That’s why any method used to tackle it has to be based on firm evidence, and capable of proper evaluation.