Monday, 10 November 2014

Badger culls must be based on facts, not panic and bias

Unless every single badger is killed, the survivors move around, resulting in an increase in bovine TB. But will politicians listen?, Monday 10 November 2014 09.39 GMT

After more than 40 years of living in the British countryside, any day I see a badger is precious. I knew the location of every sett in the woods around my childhood home, but rarely saw them with my own eyes. Even now I’m a professional naturalist, the majority of my badger encounters come from tracking their teddy bear paw prints, probing richly scented communal latrines, or plucking stiff guard hairs from where low-slung bellies have caught barbed wire fences or tree roots. Sightings are usually limited to monochrome images from the camera traps I put out behind my house. I know plenty of people who live in the country who have never seen a badger. They are definitely there, but these nocturnal delights remain elusive, and thus are still a thrill.

Those who support the badger cull would say my passion for wild things makes me subjective, emotive and irrational; they would accuse me of letting cuddly sentiment get in the way of common sense. Fair enough. Many of the animals that are traditionally seen as vermin are my life’s fascination. I am biased. For this reason, neither I nor any farmer whose livelihood, family and future depends on cattle should be making the big decisions on this subject. Instead, our government must rely on science.

The definitive study on the impact of badger culling on the spread of bovine TB in cattle is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) undertaken by the last government between 1997 and 2007. It cost more than £50m, resulted in the deaths of 11,000 badgers and is widely regarded as the best piece of peer-reviewed research on the issue undertaken anywhere in the world.

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