The cull of the wild

To paraphrase an old saying, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. Although the recent High Court judgement on the Welsh Assembly’s planned badger cull found in favour of the Assembly, it also made clear the minimal benefits that the cull would bring – at best, a 6% reduction in the number of new cattle herd breakdowns over the next seven years. (Believe it or not, in law that counts as ‘substantial.’) In addition, many people have made the point that as an injectable badger vaccine has now been licensed for use in the UK, the badgers which are to be trapped in Pembrokeshire could be vaccinated and released rather than shot dead. Despite these facts, the plea made by the Badger Trust for the Welsh Assembly Government to “conscientiously reconsider the matter with the benefit of all the relevant information” has been ignored.

And so – rather ironically given that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity – the extermination of north Pembrokeshire’s badgers will soon begin. As the start of the cull approaches, more information about it is becoming known. The title of an article in the Farmers Guardian – Details of Welsh badger cull revealed – is however rather overstating things. Many  important details are yet to be revealed. The cull has been planned for months, with advice taken from “experts in wildlife … veterinary surgeons and epidemiologists” (according to the BBC). Yet according to the Daily Post (Welsh badger culls still awaiting green light) “the Assembly Government is now awaiting advice from wildlife experts before launching its pilot cull. Chief vet Dr Christianne Glossop is reluctant to green light the five-year project until this season’s badger cubs are able to leave their setts – to prevent them starving to death as orphans.” Frankly I find it amazing that an aspect of the cull as important as the dates of the closed season was not considered and agreed upon a long time ago. After months of telling us that she is going to kill badgers, it is only now that Dr Glossop has thought “Hang on a minute, when is it actually safe to start doing this?”

This should not really surprise me. Other important details, such as how the effectiveness of this so-called “pilot cull” is to be evaluated, also seem to have been forgotten – or ignored. The cull is to take place alongside stricter cattle control measures in an “Intensive Action Pilot Area. ”As retired Government scientist and badger expert Dr Chris Cheeseman has pointed out (in Culling badgers will make TB worse), “any effects of the badger culling or cattle measures will be impossible to tease apart.” Furthermore, as the cull is to take place in a part of Wales where there are hard physical boundaries (such as coastline and rivers) which will greatly reduce movement of badgers in or out of the area. Even if it were possible to evaluate the effectiveness of the ‘pilot,’ how could the findings possibly be applied to other parts of Wales?

When this poorly thought out and tragically misguided slaughter of badgers is complete in five years time, an oral TB vaccine for badgers is likely to be available. By the time any benefits of the cull have dwindled away two years later, a vaccine for cattle should be ready and the end of the sorry saga of bovine TB will finally be at hand. All this will be too late for the badgers of north Pembrokeshire however.

On Monday evening I watched the local woodland sett where I have seen so much badger activity over the last year. For some reason the badgers did not emerge until very late and for a long time it seemed that I was watching an empty sett. It occurred to me that before long, most if not all of the badger setts of north Pembrokeshire really will be empty. Having been occupied in some cases for centuries by generations of badgers, and having echoed to the sounds of cubs playing and adults courting, these underground labyrinths will one by one fall silent and still. A precious part of the fauna of this corner of Wales will be gone, and we will all be the poorer for it.

Badger cubs – soon to be a rare sight in north Pembrokeshire.
(View larger version at Flickr)

To comment on and read updates to this article please visit the Badger Message Board.

Useful links: the Badger Trust, Pembrokeshire Against the Cull, Save the Badger.

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