With the government considering a cull on badgers, very few people are sitting on the fence. The initiative will affect a great number of people in the Newbury area, so what is the cull all about?
We explain how it will affect you.
What is Bovine TB?
Tuberculosis in cattle is a chronic infectious disease, caused by Mycobacterium bovis, which has a devastating effect on animals’ health. Last year, one in every ten herds showed signs of infection, resulting in the slaughter of 35,000 cows.
The disease can be spread via goats, deer, llamas and domestic cats, but the role of the badger has long been at the centre of controversy.
The Existing law
The badger (meles meles) is a protected species. Since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it has been an offence for landowners to kill them. Further protection followed with the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
This makes it illegal to:
• kill, injure, take, or ill-treat a badger (except in very limited circumstances such as acts of mercy), or
• interfere with a badger sett
with a maximum penalty of:
• 6 months’ imprisonment and/or
• a £5,000 fine.
A statutory exception to this general rule is that “a license may be obtained…to kill or take badgers…to prevent the spread of disease.”
Proposed badger cull
Earlier this month, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced that the government is “strongly minded” to give the go-ahead to a cull in the south west of England, but the final decision will be made after consultation with interested parties.
• How many badgers are there in the UK?
Estimates vary from 250,000 to 288,000, with life expectancy at around 14 years.
• What effect might the badger cull have on bovine TB?
The government believes that a nationwide cull will reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis by 16%. Others put the figure at just 12%.
• When will the consultation period finish?
20 September 2011.
• What happens then?
If the consultation produces the expected results, pilot culling schemes will follow next Spring, probably in Devon and Gloucestershire.
• How will the pilot cull be monitored?
An independent panel of experts will examine carcasses to determine whether the cull is both “humane” and “effective”. Effective means that 70% of badgers could be killed over a six week period.
• What happens after the pilot schemes have finished?
If the pilot programmes are completed without a hitch, it is likely that 2013 will see more widespread implementation across the south of England.
• What are the dangers of the disease spreading during the cull?
Some scientists have expressed concern about the dangers of “perturbation” where surviving badgers scatter the surrounding countryside, spreading the disease across a wider geographical range. There are no plans in the government’s draft guidelines to monitor this.
• Who will be authorised to administer the cull?
The government’s recommendation is for highly-skilled marksmen to carry out the task. Under the draft guidelines, these will be trained deerstalkers who will need to undergo further training.
• Who will police the badger control measures?
The National Wildlife Crime Unit will be responsible for policing both anti-control protesters and investigating the illegal killing of badgers.
• What will happen if the cull is discontinued after the pilot scheme? Are there any alternative plans?
The government has not announced any alternatives. In April, the National Trust embarked on an ambitious four-year programme of vaccination in Devon. Trials show that the vaccine reduces the incidence of TB in badgers by 74%, although there is no research as yet to indicate the impact of infection levels in cattle.