Seconds out – round two! The badger cull is back, and James Marchington predicts the papers will be black and white and read all over.
If last year’s fuss over badgers in the press drove you to distraction, you might want to emigrate now. It’s all kicking off again.
As you’ve no doubt heard, environment minister Owen Paterson approved two pilot culls, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, this summer, with part of Dorset designated a ‘reserve’ cull area if needed. The culls will begin as early as 1 June, and will see around 5,000 badgers killed.
Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth! “We are outraged,” began the press release from the RSPCA. The society’s chief executive, Gavin Grant, provided a quote in suitably emotive terms: “The government seems hell bent on pressing forward with their senseless plans to kill badgers.”
And Brian May was quick to jump back on the bandwagon, recording a video for the Telegraph website to describe his emotions at the news: “Sadness… a certain amount of frustration… despondency…”
Paterson told the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham what they knew already: that TB had cost Britain £500m in the last 10 years, and left unchecked will cost an estimated £1bn over the next decade. “This is completely unacceptable,” he said, sounding for all the world like Supernanny catching little Billy with his snotty hand in the biscuit tin. Bad badger, get on the naughty step.
The farmers clapped, Paterson took a drink of water and rearranged his face into the regulation issue Look Of Steely Resolve. Research has shown, he said, that culling badgers can lead to a reduction of TB in cattle if carried out over a large enough area for a sufficient length of time. I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and dead badgers. Actually I made that last bit up.
May, on the other hand, was clutching at heartstrings. His eyes drooping like a smacked puppy, he emphasised that it wasn’t just a bit sad: “I think it’s very, very sad.” He was oh-so-understanding of the farmers’ plight. “It sounds a sexy thing. We’re taking action, we’ll go and kill the badgers. But this is a tragedy for Britain’s wildlife.” Sad too for the farmers, he said, as the cull will drive a wedge between them and the public. Yes, Brian, you’ll make sure of that. He quoted a poll that said 92 per cent of the public oppose the cull, and slipped in the highly questionable claim that “the scientific community doesn’t want it.”
So the battle lines are drawn. Defra and the government are determined to press ahead with the cull. Deep down they must know that a couple of pilot culls totalling 5,000 badgers are a drop in the ocean and will make no meaningful difference to eradicating TB. But last year’s debacle left them looking like they might struggle to run a booze-up in a brewery, so there’s credibility at stake. And you have to start somewhere. A pilot is just that: a trial run for something bigger and more spectacular, although no one is saying how big the main event might be.
The anti-cull lobby have set out their stall too. They say culling won’t help solve the TB problem “and may make things worse,” a reference to the so-called perturbation effect observed in the 1998 RBCT (or Ridiculously Badly Conducted Trial as some would have it). Much of the perturbation probably consisted of animal rights activists ‘saving’ cage-trapped badgers by making off with them and releasing them elsewhere. Then again, animal rights loonies are part of the landscape, so any cull plan should take them into account.
Anti-cull activists have a few more bullet points on their cue cards. “We could vaccinate the badgers,” they say. “In fact we are already,” pointing to a feeble programme funded by Wildlife Trusts and others. “And if only the EU would change its rules, we could vaccinate the cows too.” With or without vaccination, they will claim that tighter controls on cattle would eradicate the disease.
The pro-cullers respond that an effective vaccine hasn’t been invented yet, vaccines protect and don’t cure, and that no country in the world has beaten TB in cattle without also addressing it in the local wildlife, like possums in New Zealand.
What they won’t highlight is that ‘addressing’ TB in New Zealand wildlife involves the massively controversial helicopter-spreading of tons of poisonous sodium fluoroacetate, known as 1080, to kill possums across huge swathes of countryside. Warning signs declare: “Do not eat animals from this area” and “Deadly to dogs.” Hunters have formed an unlikely alliance with animal rights activists to fight the poisoning programme, while conservationists and farmers campaign passionately for its continued use, with police protection squads accompanying each helicopter operation.
Back in the UK, the arguments will be played back and forth like a tennis match. One side or the other will get a bit heated when their opponents seem to be getting an easy ride, or making their case a bit too effectively. People in parkas and army boots (or even badger costumes) will wave banners outside supermarkets. And preparations for the cull will continue behind the scenes.
As the cull date approaches, things will get increasingly nasty. The usual crowd of ‘activists’ will declare that anything goes if it saves a badger’s life. There will be mass tresspasses, cameras in the bushes, baseball bats and balaclavas. Names and telephone numbers will be posted on websites, and unpleasant things will arrive through farmers’ letterboxes.
The badger protectionists will accuse farmers and badger cullers of being bloodthirsty and cruel, while farmers will complain that the cause has been hijacked by anarchists and terrorists. The media will gleefully interview anyone who claims to have seen a badger die horribly, or been threatened by a man with a gun, or thinks a bullet may have whizzed past their head in the dead of night, “so close I felt it brush my hair.”
Later, some badgers will be dead – far too many for some people’s liking but nowhere near enough to make any difference to bees or hedgehogs or TB. Cows will still be dying, and everyone will be really, really cross. Except Brian May who will be really, really sad and will hug a badger cub.
The best thing shooters can do is stand aside and let them get on with it.
SHOOTING IN THE MEDIA
“We reject absolutely these unprofessional assertions.”
The RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing rejects a Scottish Gamekeepers Association
report suggesting it’s possible a golden eagle died after flying into
a fence rather than being caught in an illegal trap (RSPB)
“You only have to think about proposed restrictions on young people buying magazines, or postal restrictions, to understand how those who would happily destroy centuries of tradition and decimate our glorious countryside set about achieving their disgraceful aims.”
New BASC chief executive Richard Ali tells Council candidate
Martyn Parfitt about his plans. (martynparfittforbasc.wordpress.com)
“My pastimes don’t include blowing up animal testing labs.”
Maxine Burgess writes to her local paper to ask why
people are being so nasty to vegans (Worcester News)
“Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here – walk out, put that double barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.”
American vice president Joe Biden claims that a shotgun is
better than an AR-15 for home security, and has told
his wife what to do in the event of an attack (Daily Mail)
“We are going to go above and beyond on all-out training.”
Supt. Don Dunn set out to train every school employee at
Van in Texas to use a handgun. Unfortunately one of the
trainees managed to shoot himself in the leg (KLTV)