A farmer group that is against the proposed Government cull of badgers in bovine TB hotspot areas, is using the postponement of the culling to launch a recruiting campaign.
With the six-week pilot culls in West Somerset and Gloucestershire put off until next May, the Badger Welfare Association (BWA) is appealing to cattle farmers to join up. It is campaigning for an alternative approach to the bovine TB problem, which caused the deaths of 26,000 cattle last year, and says that only if it can show it has widespread backing from the farming community will politicians start to take it seriously.
The recruitment drive comes as the BWA’s founder, Somerset and dairy farmer and WMN columnist Derek Mead warns of a storm of new TB cases this winter.
The BWA, established in August under the slogan “Healthy badgers, healthy cattle” aims to pursue an alternative approach to tackling the bovine TB epidemic, claiming the pilot culls of 70% of all badgers in the hotspot areas are based on a flawed strategy.
It said they risked turning the public against farmers because they will inevitably lead to healthy, as well as sick and infected badgers being killed.
It is calling instead for a targeted cull aimed only at badger setts which are probably infected, and says it can equip farmers with the necessary field craft to identify them.
It wants the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to carry out a properly supervised trial of its methods, so their effectiveness can be assessed.
Mr Mead said the group had no doubt its system was effective, making use of the expertise of Devon farmer Bryan Hill. He explained: “We have an expert who has years of experience in identifying setts where there are infected badgers, and he is ready to pass on his skills to others. Because he is a farmer and not a scientist Defra is most unlikely to take him, or us, seriously.
“On the other hand, if we could show we had a significant degree of support from the farming community there is a chance that we could persuade politicians that our alternative method was worth a trial, at the very least.”
Mr Mead warned of an impending explosion of TB cases this winter.
He said: “Conditions below ground are so damp they are ideal for TB to flourish.
“A lot of badgers have been flooded out and are living above ground, and because food is scarce they are travelling further to look for it. All this adds up to a perfect situation for TB to spread.
“That must be a compelling reason for getting behind what we believe is the only practical and acceptable solution.”