Peter Frost rages as disastrous Con-Dem policies allow bovine TB to spread to areas of England previously unaffected by it
Shooters and anti-cull demonstrators are both out in force in the West Country.
Last year, you may remember, shooters — almost as incompetent as their Cabinet and Defra bosses — managed to kill only 921 badgers in Gloucestershire and 940 in Somerset. This year’s targets are considerably less.
Tory Environment Minister Owen Paterson made the stupid remark: “The badgers have moved the goalposts,” and although most badgers survived the fiasco Paterson didn’t. Cameron culled him.
Meanwhile, out in the countryside all that shooting — and plenty of missed shots — disturbed many extended families of badgers and a lot of them moved from their established setts to other locations.
Badgers were turning up in long deserted setts and are being seen in places without any recent history of badger population.
This, of course, was precisely the result that anti-cull scientists and badger experts warned would happen and it means that those badgers which do carry bovine tuberculosis were spreading it to new setts, new farms and new areas.
Experts consistently warned that the cull could increase, rather than prevent, the spread of tuberculosis to cattle, because it disperses the animals across a wider area, which is precisely what happened.
Some farmers took matters into their own hands and illegally killed badgers. Police had to investigate reports of illegal shooting, gassing and trapping.
An independent panel of experts appointed by Defra after last year’s cull concluded the culls were neither effective nor humane. Defra and their Con-Dem masters decided to ignore them.
In a brilliant new shift of policy the Con-Dem-directed Defra policy will no longer have any independent scientific analysis of the results of the cull. There will be no facts to confuse anybody this time.
Now the cull has restarted, several weeks later than in 2013, despite the fact that it is more difficult to kill badgers as the weather gets colder and they spend more time underground.
The delay is the result of the police needed to protect the badger shooters were busy defending Nato bigwigs in Newport.
The last cull cost millions in police overtime and it is calculated that each dead badger cost £4,000 to kill.
Opinion against the cull is still strong. No doubt there will be many demonstrations as the cull gets underway.
The RSPCA’s David Bowles told us: “We are saddened but unsurprised at the reinstatement of the badger culls. This action is flying in the face of public and scientific opinion.”
Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a leading badger expert, has said that a low minimum kill target for this year would mean the cull could actually make TB worse as fleeing badgers spread the disease more widely.
Woodroffe, who works for the Zoological Society of London, calculates that the new Somerset targets will mean the 70 per cent level would not be reached even after two years of culling.
The opponents of the cull have long argued that vaccination of badgers and strict restrictions on the movement of cattle would be a much more effective, efficient and humane way of tackling the disease.
Vaccination and movement control are already working well in Wales where no cull is taking place but bovine TB figures are decreasing.
In fact a government-backed vaccination programme for England was launched quietly this summer, but, as so often with our Con-Dem crew, it was too little, too late.
Worse, the long-delayed vaccination programme does not target cattle in TB hot-spot areas.
So poor old Brock will be hunted down and shot again this autumn.
However, despite the best intentions of the men at the ministry, I suspect, we shall be seeing his stripey snout all over the British countryside for a long time to come.
I, for one, am delighted about that.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 11 September 2014.