After a period of relative peace in the public domain on the issue of badgers and bovine TB, the last month has seen several steps forward in both Wales and England.
For the last few months, an independent review panel commissioned by the Welsh Government has been undertaking an assessment of all the evidence that underpins the badger-bTB debate. On the 7th December, John Griffiths AM (Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development) issued a written statement to the effect that he had met with Professor John Harries, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, and Professor Chris Gaskell, Principal of the Royal Agricultural College and Chair of the independent review panel.
At this meeting, he formally received the report on the science base for the bovine TB eradication programme. Around the same time, during question time at the Senedd, Conservative AM Paul Davies questioned First Minister Carwyn Jones on the next steps, and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM accused the government of trying to defer the decision (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/uk-wales-politics-16006967). However the Welsh Government have stated that they are now considering the report and its implications, and we expect that they will report further on this early in the new year.
Meanwhile in England and at a UK level various other moves have been made by the Government and its agencies. WTSWW, along with many other stakeholders, have been contacted by FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency) about a badger survey of England and Wales, commissioned by Defra. It is to be the third in a series of such monitoring schemes dating back to 1985 and aims to assess changes in population size and distribution over time.
Meanwhile in England this week, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has announced two badger culls in pilot areas using the ‘free-shooting’ technique, where badgers are shot by marksmen, without trapping. She said, “there is great strength of feeling on this issue and no one wants to see badgers culled. But at present there is no satisfactory alternative.”
Last year the government cancelled five out of six pilots for the vaccination of badgers, on cost grounds. Vaccination is currently being trialled by the National Trust and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
Under the proposed free-shooting trials, the farmers themselves will incur the costs of the culling and will be required to seek licences from Natural England and use marksmen with special shooting permits.
Rosie Woodroffe, one of the researchers involved in the Independent Scientific Group’s Randomised Badger Culling Trial (which found that culling badgers could not make a meaningful contribution to the control of TB in cattle), said that “It is likely to cost farmers more than they save, and there is a serious concern that such culling will make cattle TB worse rather than better”.
The Government is already facing opposition to Caroline Spelman’s announcement. Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said “a badger cull is the wrong tool to address this serious and complex problem and a distraction from other measures to tackle bovine TB.
An industry-led cull with open shooting in the countryside is untested and these pilots will not provide a scientific evaluation of the impact on bovine TB. The rationale for any cull of native species needs to be extremely clear and well proven. We do not believe this is the case with the proposed badger cull.”
The Badger Trust has said that it is ‘very disappointed’ with the decision and that they are studying the decision with their legal advisors to determine what actions they should take.
Meanwhile the Humane Society International/UK (HSI/UK) is already submitting a complaint to the Bern Convention against the UK in response to the announcement. HSI/UK believes proceeding with a badger slaughter breaches the international convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats because it lacks ‘legitimate purpose’ and poses a significant threat to local badger populations. In addition, HSI/UK does “not believe that alternative strategies for controlling tuberculosis in cattle (bTB) and badgers have been sufficiently explored”.
The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work together to support vaccination as an alternative to culling, and we will let you know about the next steps in Wales in the new year.