Badgers and Bovine TB
Farmers in the Westcountry have set up a badger-protection group – less than a month before a Government cull of badgers is due to begin as part of the campaign to stamp out bovine tuberculosis.
The Badger Welfare Association says it is dedicated to the creation of a healthy, balanced badger population. And it has received high-profile support from rock star and animal welfare supporter Brian May.
As a founder of the BWA, Somerset dairy farmer, Derek Mead, said years of tests, trials and endless rounds of bickering between rival groups of scientists had merely seen a worsening of the TB situation in a country which, 60 years ago, was officially clear of the disease.
He said the only option now was to go for the root cause of the problem, asserting that the Government's pilot cull, officially due to begin in the autumn in West Somerset and Gloucestershire – but still subject to an appeal against a lost judicial challenge by the Badger Trust – would do more harm than good, leading to the killing of healthy badgers as well as diseased ones.
That would alienate the pro-badger lobby and leave farmers susceptible to character assassination and general blackening of their image, he claimed.
Mr Mead said: "The Labour government wriggled off the hook every time it was asked to do something about bovine TB, because it didn't want to upset its friends in the animal welfare lobby.
And while the current Government has done something in authorising pilot culls, the plans are deeply flawed, won't target diseased badgers and will show farmers in a very bad light indeed.
"No farmer wants to eradicate badgers. But with the disease spreading to all kinds of wild and domesticated animals clearly the time has come for some decisive intervention."
The association is holding an inaugural meeting at Sedgemoor Auction Centre, near Bridgwater, on August 14, followed by another at the Waie Inn, Zeal Monachorum, near Crediton, on August 16. Both meetings will start at 7.30pm.
Farmers will be invited to subscribe to the association which, said Mr Mead, would be prepared to go to the courts to resolve the issue once and for all. Members of pro-badger groups would be welcomed at either session, he stressed.
The launch of the BWA has had a mixed reception. Brian May's Save Me campaign said it welcomed discussions with any group that was genuinely interested in solving bovine TB.
In a statement it said: "The BWA farmers do not believe that a mass cull proposed by the Government will help the bovine TB issue in any way and we are heartened to see this stance from a farming group.
We look forward to the scientific data from the BWA in relation to any proposals."
The Badger Trust said scientific proof of the BWA's scheme would be needed before conclusions could be drawn.
A spokesman said: "We would need to see scientific, vigorous and conclusive validation, and then repetition of the programme."
But the League Against Cruel Sports gave the BWA a qualified welcome.
Chief executive Joe Duckworth said: "We know there is real public appetite to find a humane and effective alternative to badger culling.
We welcome the opportunity to meet members of the BWA to discuss any genuine and science-led attempts to find such an alternative."
The National Farmers' Union, though, was sceptical about the BWA's plans. South West spokesman Ian Johnson said: "This is based on scientifically unsubstantiated ground. It doesn't stack up.
The scale of gassing in TB hotspot areas could not be achieved in the short term – and the legal implications would be very considerable indeed.
The pilot culls will get us somewhere soon – and we should go with them."
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