Badger cull: activists on night vigil yet to see dead animals
As marksmen begin their hunt in pilot areas, protesters step up their watch with groups looking out for wounded badgers • Q&A: what the cull means
“Mister Fox”, the pseudonym of a well-spoken anti-cull activist in his 40s, can barely speak after three nights’ stumbling by torchlight along the footpaths of Somerset in search of for badgers – dead or alive.
He has seen neither hunter or animal yet however. “We have been checking 20-30 badger setts every night. Last night I was up 11.30 to 4, tonight will be the same. We can definitely say that no badgers have been killed round here.
“Eight of us went out last night and there were definitely no bodies, no sounds of hunters, no signs of their traps or sight of their cars. To our knowledge there have only been three cases of baiting in this vast area of hills and woods. We saw numerous setts but no people.”
Fox, and others at “Camp Badger”, a small camp of protesters outside the seaside village of Watchet, think the people culling may not be nearly as numerous, or as efficient as they have been made out to be by government.
The protester said: “We are beginning to think this whole operation may be rather amateur. We don’t think they even know where the badger setts are. We are keeping an eye on loads of them and there’s no activity. We are pretty certain that farmers have been going out before the cull and gassing badgers, but there’s no evidence at all so far that there have been any deaths since [Owen] Paterson [Defra secretary] announced its start.”
Last night Defra declined to say how many, if any, badgers had been killed on night one of the cull in the pilot areas of Somerset or Gloucestershire. A spokesman said: “The information is not actually kept by us. We will only release statistics of badgers killed and humaneness of the kills at the end of the six week cull. We will be saying nothing for six weeks. We will do the pilot culls first. No incidents have been reported so far.”
Camp Badger is, so far, modest: a few large tents pitched at one end of an overgrown car park with a sea view, and at least five TV broadcast vans at the other. A dozen protesters, aged 20 and upwards, sit around on rubber tyres and logs, waiting to give TV broadcasts or to go “on patrol” in the woods when it gets dark.
“Frankly we’ re still pretty disorganised. The trouble is the culling zone covers 58 square miles and we are at one end of it. There are four or five teams of sabs [saboteurs] out there but they are keeping their heads down. Others are just doing their own thing”, says one woman.
“Badger bastards!” yells a man in a car passing the camp and hooting displeasure. “Most people round here are on our side. We should have about 50 people tonight out on patrol. There were 200 for the vigil in Minehead“, says Jess Crabtree, who helps run Somerset badger group.
In the absence of badger bodies and spokespeople for the farmers, the objectors have had a field day with wildlife groups, opposition parties and saboteurs condemning the cull as useless.
Mary Creagh, opposition environment spokeswoman, accused the government of cancelling five out of six of Labour’s badger vaccine trials and running down research spending on badger and cattle vaccines against TB.
According to Creagh, cattle vaccine spending has reduced from £3.68m in 2009 to an expected £1.9m, by 2015. Badger research vaccine is expected to fall from £3.2m in 2009 to under £350,000 by 2015/16.
“The government’s divisive cull will cost more than it saves and will spread bovine TB in the short-term as badgers are disturbed by shooting. We need a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better and a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle. This cull is bad for the farmer, bad for the taxpayer and bad for wildlife”, she said.
But Defra responded that Creagh was wrong. “Investment in vaccines has not been cut. Since 1994 Defra has spent £48m on developing cattle and badger vaccines and we will invest a further £11.7m in the next three years,” said a Defra spokesman.
According to the government an injectable badger vaccine is available but there are “practical constraints with its use. It is expensive, you have to trap, catch and inject every badger and it takes longer than culling. There is also less evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccine in reducing TB than we have for culling.” Cattle vaccine is prohibited by the EU and oral badger vaccines are not expected to be available for some years.
The CLA, which represents most of Britain’s large landowners, is strongly in favour of the cull. “Managing bovine TB in badgers is an essential part of the strategy seeking to eradicate this terrible disease”, said its president, Harry Cotterell. “TB has already cost the taxpayer around £500m in the past 10 years and without a wildlife control programme [like this] could rise to around £1bn over the next 10 years.”
But the chief badger defender, the Queen guitarist Brian May, lambasted the government’s science and costings. “The [culling] policy was and is a clear violation of the principles of scientific truth, outrageously quoting a massively comprehensive and expensive 10-year-study by a top British scientific team as justification for their actions – even through the conclusion of the experiment was that badger culling “can make no meaningful contribution to the control of bovine TB in cattle”.
“The authors of this report, along with essentially the whole scientific community, have repeatedly condemned this policy and labelled the government’s claim that it is ‘science-led’ as dishonest,” he said.
- ‘Shameful’ badger cull will destroy wildlife, says Chris Packham (telegraph.co.uk)
- Badger cull: protesters claim success in opening battles (theguardian.com)
- A ‘dark day’ for Britain as badger cull begins (express.co.uk)
- News story: Badger cull – piloting controls on bovine TB (gov.uk)
- Bovine TB fears spark UK badger cull (skynews.com.au)
- Badger cull go-ahead flies in the face of scientific evidence, says Labour (theguardian.com)
- Farming leader: Bring badger cull to Wales to control spread of bovine TB (walesonline.co.uk)
- Why the badger cull will spread bovine TB, not help eradicate it (metro.co.uk)
- Badger cull: activists on night vigil yet to see dead animals (theguardian.com)
- Don´t cull Badgers! There are other ways to clear the situation! (spiritandanimal.wordpress.com)