PETER FROST finds a black and white snout peeping out from the dock in the high court this week.
Defra Minister Caroline Spelman can always be relied on to come down on the side of rich farmers, country landowners and their profitable interests.
Before she got her seat in the coalition cabinet she ran a lobbying firm with her husband representing the interests of massive agribusiness to Westminster. Her husband still owns and runs the lobbying company.
Despite her boss’s promise to be ‘the greenest Government ever’ Good Shepherd Cameron and his obedient sheepdog Clegg have proved to be quite the opposite.
Attempts to sell of the nation’s forests, plans to persecute the buzzard and a dozen more schemes have proved that when there is a choice between protecting the our green and pleasant land and making a profit out of it profit always wins.
Now Mrs Spelman’s sights are set firmly on killing one of our most loveable and fascinating wild mammals – the badger. The huge cull we are told is to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in cattle herds.
As part of the Government’s ‘Big Society’ proposals the cull of poor old Brock will be carried out free by amateur, so called sportsmen, and their gamekeepers with high powered rifles. If they miss the bullets are capable of travelling over a mile putting anyone in range at risk.
The campaigning conservation organisation The Badger Trust has forced a Judicial Review of the Coalition Government’s decision to kill badgers. The hearing has been set for Monday and Tuesday June 25 and 26 and will cover the killing plan for England.
In 2010 The Badger Trust won a similar Judicial Review of the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to kill badgers. The Welsh cull didn’t happen.
Instead the Welsh Government announced that it would vaccinate badgers and improve cattle testing methods etc rather than introducing a cull. This was in line with most science based evidence.
In an English court this week The Badger Trust will argue that culling would not prevent the spread of BTB but rather make matters worse at great cost to farmers, the tax payer and badgers. The Trust will ask the court to overturn Defra’s decision on the basis of a number of grounds.
The Secretary of State, Mrs Spelman, has authorised Natural England to issue badger killing licences to reduce the rate of new incidences of BTB. Spelman herself expects a mere twelve to sixteen percent reduction in the disease after nine years at a huge net cost to the farmer and to us.
Reducing the disease by such small amounts does not match the purpose for which the legal power was granted. The Badger Act demands that a strict legal test of “preventing the spread of disease” be met before badgers can be destroyed.
In fact even Defra’s own evidence suggests the cull may in fact amount to a recipe for spreading the disease. Healthy badger families may be shot as it isn’t possible to tell if a badger has BTB except by post-mortem. Once the sett is empty another badger family from outside the area will usually move in and that new group could well introduce tuberculosis.
Add to that the fact that the whole testing regime for BTB is unreliable. Other problems like liver fluke can give inaccurate test result and other routes for the spread of the disease such as from farmed and wild deer are swept under the carpet for fear of upsetting the, often aristocratic, deer stalking and venison farming lobbies.
It is very clear that most cattle that catch BTB catch it from another cow not from a passing badger.
Meanwhile our badger population face other threats. Many setts are still dug by so called country sportsmen for badger baiting. The more violent breeds of terrier are pitched against badgers in bloody fights. Recent prosecutions have demonstrated that this cruelty is still very strong in Northern Ireland and England’s Midland counties.
So poor old Mr Badger, so used to fighting for his life in the countryside or in a dog fighting pit behind some dodgy pub, is today in court fighting for his survival and, as so often in today’s Britain, the real guilty party – the pit-bull terriers of our Coalition Government – are getting away with murder.
First published in the Morning Star, 2012