Not seeing the wood for the trees

Jan RoyallJan Royall on why the government's cull of badgers makes no sense

As a proud member of the Forest of Dean community, a tax payer, and someone who lives in the country and is both concerned about the problems of dairy farmers including the prevalence of TB and about our wildlife, I am angry by the government’s decision to begin the pilot to cull badgers in West Gloucestershire.

TB is a terrible disease which results in the slaughter of cows and has a serious impact on a farm’s profitability and viability. It must be dealt with, but why don’t Ministers follow the scientific advice rather than embarking on an ineffective, costly cull that will decimate our badger population?

The cull has no sound scientific, economic or moral basis. Leading scientists and experts are against it, many farmers are against it, and international conservation organisations are against it. As also is my Party, which commissioned the largest scientific project into the effects: the Randomised Badger Culling Trial. So why is the government pressing ahead with the free shooting of moving badgers – something that has never been trialled?

Killing badgers has no proven lasting effect on the eradication of TB. A cull could lead to the spread of the disease as badgers flee the cull zones into surrounding farmland. In response to a Parliamentary Question from my friend and colleague, Mary Creagh MP, DEFRA conceded that at least 50% of cattle herd breakdowns are caused by cattle to cattle contact.

We are told that approval for a vaccine for cattle is imminent but we know that there is a problem in relation to the European Union. I am a firm supporter of the EU but I recognise that it needs real reform and that some of its policies need challenging. This is one of them. The government should be in Brussels arguing for the vaccination of cattle not slaughtering badgers. There is also vaccine for badgers which is being used in Gloucestershire and which seems to be effective, although it can only be part of the solution.

Last Friday evening I attended an excellent, packed meeting in the Forest of Dean organised by Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting (GABS). One of the speakers had spent his life as a livestock manager and he spoke of the need for biosecurity and improved animal husbandry. It made sense. Why aren’t Ministers listening to him along with scientists like Lord Krebs, one of the government’s most respected advisers?

We are told that that this is just a pilot and that more scientific work is being done. The pilot will be deemed to be a success if more than 70% of badgers in the area are eradicated. But who can say how many badgers there are in an area and how will DEFRA know when 70% have been killed?

For most people who live in the Forest, this is not just a pilot. It will decimate our badger population, it will be costly, and it will be potentially dangerous to citizens walking in or around the Forest at night. Most importantly, it will not provide a much needed solution to the problem of TB which leads to the slaughter of cows and penury for farmers. It will also be a burden on our hard pressed police force which will have to find around £2m to police the cull.

The Forest of Dean District Council this week, on the initiative of the Labour Group, has a special meeting to discuss the cull where I hope they resolve that no badgers should be shot on council land. I would urge all local authorities in pilot areas to do likewise, I am sure that the vast majority of people whom they represent will be against this crazy cull.

I would also urge all those who share my concern to look at the Team Badger website and to sign the e-petition on the Downing Street website to ensure, at the very least, that there is a proper debate at Parliament.

Barroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the Lords and lives in the Forest of Dean

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