The decision over whether or not to allow badger culling in England is to be delayed, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice told the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference. It is to be hoped that the Government uses this extra time to reflect upon both the scientific evidence and the practical implications of trying to carry out culling over large areas.
The Woodland Trust believes any decision should be based on sound science. The most comprehensive and rigorous study to date showed that culling badgers would not be effective in controlling bovine TB unless carried out in a sustained and comprehensive way over a large area. The proposals unveiled in the Government’s consultation last autumn provided for farmers and landowners to get together to apply for licences to cull to try and meet these criteria.
However, the Trust was concerned that the Government proposed to bring in other measures at the same time, such as changes to cattle-based measures. It was not clear how the efficacy of these measures and badger culling could be separately monitored and evaluated. The approach would also rely on farmers and landowners having time and resources to carry out sustained culling over at least four years – a tall order.
We also urged the Government to take account of the potential impact of removing a key woodland species from large areas of the countryside, and the impact this might have on woodland ecology. While debate has continued on the thorny issue of badger culling, provisional figures for the first ten months of 2010 show that for the UK, a smaller number of cattle confirmed as TB carriers were slaughtered than during the same period a year earlier – 25,924 compared with 29,243. England and Wales separately show a similar trend; and this follows a fall between 2008 and 2009. Read our previous blogs about what’s happening on this issue in Wales, here.
Bovine TB is a dreadful disease that devastates farmers, and the Woodland Trust wants to see a solution. However, we would urge the Government to ensure that the decision they take is properly thought through and can stand up to public scrutiny. Indications are it could be May before a decision is made, when it could be too late for culling this year.