Wildlife campaigners say the Government’s green-light for pilot badger culls in the Westcountry signals failure to combat tuberculosis spreading to cattle.
Natural England has licensed six-week pilot culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire to determine if shooting badgers is safe and humane and reduces the incidence of TB in livestock.
Earlier this week at the Conservative party conference the newly-appointed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said vaccinating badgers was unworkable in the short-term despite £15.5 million being spent on research.
However, the Badger Trust says environment ministers and their departmental aides are “quick to cherry-pick bits of science that appear to support their case” and the public is being deliberately misled.
Jack Reedy, spokesman for the charity, said: “The Coalition remains silent and evasive on the real issue: cattle management, and their own continuing abject failure to impose, through Defra, the kind of tough, effective, long-term remedial measures spelt out by independent scientists, following ten years of peer-reviewed research.
“If – and it’s a big if – the proposed night-time rifle-fire slaughter of tens of thousands of an iconic and protected animal goes ahead, the Government forecasts only a 12 to 16% drop over nine years in bovine TB in cattle.
“Self-evidently that means bovine TB won’t be solved.
“Self evidently that can only mean that cattle are the main vectors and that the bulk of the problem – that untouched 84% – is being ignored or unreasonably delayed. Ministers protest loud and long that something must be done to control this highly infectious respiratory disease. But the blame for inaction lies squarely with them.
“They appeal for calm; they protest that culling is unavoidable. But when it comes to tackling the root causes of the disease they fail the farming community, the public – who are forced to pay farmers a huge annual compensation bill – and of, course, wildlife.”
NFU South West spokesman Ian Johnson said tens of thousands of cattle were slaughtered every year because of the disease.
He said: “The Badger Trust appears not to want to accept we have a disease that is carried by more than one species and if we don’t deal with it as a whole the countryside will never be rid of it. Cattle are routinely subjected to draconian movement control and testing and all to no avail.
“Badgers excrete bacilli in their urine and sputum across fields and are not subjected to testing.” Mr Johnson said vaccination was not a viable option yet and badgers were not an endangered species.