It seems badger culling will go ahead in Wales. Last week the Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones laid before the National Assembly the order that will allow culling within a specified area in the south west of the country. The order is expected to come into force on the 31 March 2011.
Always a hotly contested issue, this is one that may divide voters in the forthcoming elections in Wales. It means landowners, even those who oppose badger culling, will be legally required to allow it to be carried out on their land.
The Woodland Trust has always argued against the Assembly Government’s proposals for culling in an “Intensive Action Area”. It’s to be introduced alongside other measures, including more stringent cattle control measures in that area. As we have said before and years ago, it is entirely unclear how the efficacy of culling and these other measures can be monitored and evaluated separately, so if the incidence of bovine TB is reduced (or increases), who is to say what the cause is?
It’s also unclear how this can be a pilot for effective action anywhere else. The area has been chosen because it has “hard boundaries” e.g. the coastline, which should prevent the “perturbation effect” that causes an increase in bovine TB just outside the culling area due to movement of badgers. Research has shown that only sustained and widespread badger culling in such an area can be effective in controlling bovine TB. But even if it works in the areas chosen, how realistic is it that this can be replicated elsewhere?
The badger is one of our most iconic woodland species. We don’t really know what impact it will have on woodland ecology if it is effectively removed from the ecosystem across a very wide area. At the same time, bovine TB is a horrendous disease that is costing the country millions, and causes heartbreak and financial devastation for farmers.
There’s no easy solution, but having gone so far as to designate a trial area, and put in place more stringent cattle-based measures, it would have seemed sensible at the very least to monitor the effectiveness of those measures in isolation first, before introducing any further steps.
Sian Atkinson, Conservation Team Leader