Badger cull small print

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I WONDER if the West Sussex farmers who welcomed the government’s announcement that it will permit a cull of badgers had read the small print of the government’s proposals (bTB action welcomed. WSG, July 20).

Farmers will have to finance the cull themselves, and employ skilled marksmen to shoot the badgers. A cull will have to last for at least four years; in the first year, 70 per cent of the badgers in the area will have to be killed within six weeks, and the cull will have to be repeated every year to maintain this reduction in the badger population.

The government will require the participating farmers to deposit the full cost of the four year cull in advance; this cost is put at £1.49 million for a typical area of 350 square kilometres. The benefits to the participating farmers, in terms of reduced losses from infected cattle, are estimated to be £1.35 million.

Even on the government’s figures – which it accepts are uncertain – farmers would therefore lose money by participating in a cull. They would also have to find a large deposit before they could start shooting. It does not make financial sense for farmers to take part in this scheme.

The proposed method of culling, shooting free-running badgers at night, has not previously been used. This method is especially likely to cause badgers to disperse, and so spread any infection around the countryside. The cull could therefore make matters worse rather than better, and to penalise farmers outside the culled area.

Mr Kendall, President of the NFU, says that the most recent science shows that badger controls are necessary to get on top of bTB. It is surprising, therefore, that the two eminent scientists who directed the government’s £50 million programme on the effects of culling badgers, Lord Krebs and Professor John Bourne, have both said that it would be a mistake to cull badgers.

They believe that stricter controls over the movement of cattle would produce greater benefits. The number of cattle slaughtered because they are infected with bTB has in fact fallen in the last three years, since stricter controls were introduced by the previous government – even though some farmers have sabotaged the scheme by swopping the identity tags on animals so they can retain infected cattle.

Farmers who still want to press on with a cull of badgers, despite the high cost and the uncertainty about the benefits, should pause and consider whether it is sensible to alienate much of the public. Opinion polls show that a majority opposes a cull; farmers are still dependent on the taxpayer for compensation for the slaughter of diseased animals. Would it benefit farmers to anger those who pay the bills?

David Sawers

Seaview Avenue, East Preston