Did you know that the UK government wants to kill the majority of wild badgers in England? This vicious act is known as the badger cull and the excuse given is to combat bovine TB. Over the last couple of weeks they started 2 trial zones for culling badgers - Somerset and Gloucestershire. If the trials are successful, then the cull will be taken to the majority of the country. The plan is to murder over 70% of our wild badgers across the country.
Let's look at why this is happening shall we? England has high levels of bovine TB in cattle that has been on the increase since the 1980s. It is true that wild badgers can carry bovine TB and can pass it onto cattle. DEFRA (Department for Environmental and Rural Affairs) is suggesting that culling badgers will lead to a 16% reduction in bovine TB cases. DEFRA and the government is using that as the reason, or the excuse for the badger cull. Bare in mind that this is a Tory-led coalition government and the Tories are well known for being in favour of killing wildlife for fun. They were fierce opponents to the ban on fox hunting and have threatened to repel the ban. David Cameron enjoys shooting deer and only last month was moaning about a bad back which prevented him from going deer stalking. I contacted the MP for Wyre and Preston North where I am registered to vote, Tory MP Ben Wallace and I received a lengthy reply stating that while he doesn't like to see wildlife culled, we must protect British farmers from the dangers of bovine TB carrying badgers as the economic consequences of doing otherwise are unaffordable. I also spoke to the MP for Preston where I was living at the time, Labour MP Mark Hendrick. He told me that he had worked on a report in the 90s with Margaret Becket (or Harriet Harman, I can't quite remember) which showed that culling badgers does not solve the problem of bovine TB and in fact can increase cases of bovine TB. So there is scientific evidence to suggest that culling badgers does not get rid of bovine TB, and that such a cull could increase cases due to dispersing populations of badgers. Some badger activists have suggested that since it's supposed to be illegal to hunt foxes, the Tories want to provide a different animal which can be hunted for pleasure. Others have suggested that the government are using the badger cull as a scapegoat for the real cause of bovine TB - bad farming practices.
Lots of countries across Europe have high populations of the European badger, yet do not have high levels of bovine TB. Why is this? Well, frankly it's down to different farming methods. The UK is the 4th most densely populated country in Europe, after San Marino, Holland and Belgium. We are also one of the largest consumers and producers of meat in Europe. This leads to having intense farming practices where bovine TB can be spread much more easily. Following the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 farmers restocked their cattle without checking the new cattle for bovine TB and that has never really been dealt with properly since. And if the government's own report suggests a badger cull will reduce bovine TB cases by around 16% then surely badgers must not be the main cause of bovine TB. In fact, the majority of badgers are healthy and not infected with bovine TB, and it is very difficult to distinguish between healthy and infected badgers. How else are we going to deal with the other 84% of bovine TB cases? Here's one suggestion - vaccinations. David Cameron has stated that vaccinating badgers would cost more than a cull of badgers. But this is simply not true, the government have estimated a cost for vaccinating badgers £2,250/sq km/year but the combined estimate for the cull and cost to police the cull will reach a total of £2,429/sq km/year. There currently isn't a vaccination for cattle that is safe and ready to use, but one is being tested and will be ready in around 5-10 years time.
How will the cull take place? Farmers in the pilot areas are to go out at night and shoot badgers. Some badgers will be trapped before being shot. The farmers are not allowed to shoot in the day time for fear of being too close to members of the public. Farmers are going out in secret so it's difficult to find out where they will be.
So what can you do to help badgers? Firstly and from my point of view most importantly you can turn vegan. Turning vegan is not only good for your health and the environment it can help save the badgers. Reduce the demand for beef and dairy and you reduce the demand for cattle to be bred. If we had no demand for cattle then there would be no excuse for the badger cull.
Now is the time to act as culling has started in the pilot zones. Contact your local hunt sabotage group (search through the list here: http://hsa.enviroweb.org/index.php/get-involved/localgroups) and see if they're going to visit the pilot areas. Farmers cannot shoot if members of the public are around so activists are going out at night wearing hi-vis clothes. There are camps in both areas where activists can stay if they want. You can join Brian May's Badger Team campaign: http://www.teambadger.org.uk/. You can get involved in your local Badger Trust group (find your local group here: http://www.badger.org.uk/content/groups.asp). On Sunday 29th of September at 11am in Manchester you can join us on the Tory conference march and tell the government to stop this brutal slaughter of our innocent wildlife. I will be there along with Greens for Animal Protection (GAP, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GreensForAnimalProtection Twitter: https://twitter.com/Greens4Animals) and other Green Party members opposed to the cull. For more information visit the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/498833810194210/. I'll see you there, come and say hello!