Back to Badgering : is £16m+ value for money?

Wednesday’s blog post talked of the newfangled thing called science (pers comm. CP).  Clearly the defra agencies and their Minister are not yet conversant with this evidence based approach?

Natural England have approved a cull licence in Dorset in addition to those already running for West Gloucestershire and West Somerset.  Apparently the applications were approved as the applications fulfilled all the criteria.  Natural England’s website appears to confirm that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations, so does that means that no public funds will be spent on the continued culling in the two existing areas and the new Dorset licence area?  The ‘exercise’ thus far we understand is in the order of £16,777,000 which equates to around £6,775 per badger according to the Badger Trust.

In 2013 NE over ruled its own adviser to grant a licence to extend the Gloucestershire badger cull.  Four of nine NE Board members expressed severe reservations, particularly on the pivotal advice of the government’s chief veterinary officer (CVO) Nigel Gibbens. Wood said that advice was “the key” to the decision to extend.

During the meeting (23 October 2013), the minutes of which were obtained by the Guardian, Prof. MacDonald (NE ‘expert’ advice) said: “The CVO’s advice that killing further badgers would lead to better disease control is not easily reconciled with the evidence.” He added it was “hard to understand” how further trials could be licensed following the failure of the initial culls. Other board members agreed that the extension was likely to increase TB infections in cattle, with one noting “independent advice should have been sought”. The minutes record discussion of “the fact that it was difficult to predict what the disease control benefits would be”. In the end, the board voted narrowly to allow Wood to make the decision.

Readers may further recall that …. “If, as the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson stated in 2013, the badger cull is rolled out to over 40 areas of England the costs to the tax payer could easily exceed half a billion pounds.”  How then, with the state of the nation’s finance as it is, can this be justified?  No reasonable person lacks sympathies or understanding for the stress and problems faced by herds which are infected with bTB, but why is the English Government so incalcitrant when it comes to evidence based approach?

We read that farmers need to take consumers with them, they need to engage with the public about where food comes from so that they better understand the issues.  How is a conservationist to enjoy Somerset Brie when they know that badgers have been inhumanely slaughtered as part of the ‘production process’ of getting the product onto their plate?  Visit the news page of Stop the cull to see more detail of the issue.  Each of us effectively votes through our purse, across a wide range of ethical and moral issues and supermarkets are very sensitive to market share.

Fast forward two years, Natural England’s web page on GOV.UK clearly states that sufficient funds are in place to complete control operations.  We might read into that that the farmers, landowners or shooters will be funding the operation?  Conversely we might wonder if defra (or other department) through one of its agencies might have made available the next tranche of cash?

The Badger Trust’s recent press release in part here verbatim: “The Welsh Government’s approach has been far more successful by focusing on improved testing and movement controls in cattle. New incidents of bTB in Wales are down 28% with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered. This leaves 94% of the Welsh herd now free of bTB, without culling any badgers.

“The public has a right to be outraged not only by the appalling waste of badgers’ lives but also the disgraceful squandering of tens of millions of pounds on a policy that will have no measureable impact on reducing bovine TB. If famers are worried about badgers then vaccinating them is not just more effective and humane, it’s also ten times cheaper than culling.”

We are reminded of Prof. John Bourne’s comment when he was the Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB.  Watch his informative presentation at the Badger Trust’s AGM Seminar 2015.

“I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.

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Badgers suffer needlessly, are subject of digging, baiting and dog fighting and as if that isn’t enough they appear to be a particular target for the current Government and Natural England?

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