The Prime Minister recently told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme that he has the political courage needed to deliver the badger cull despite widespread public opposition. However within hours of his comments, DEFRA dropped a bomb shell by revealing to Care for the Wild International that out of 5,500 badgers to be shot during the pilot culls, only 240 will be independently monitored for humaneness. To make matters worse, Natural England also confirmed that they will have only 4 shoot monitors to cover the West Gloucestershire and West Somerset pilot culls zones and only 2 of these will be on the ground at any one time.
Reassurances from DEFRA that they will make up for the lack of monitors, by undertaking follow up phone calls with the cull marksmen to check what happened on shoots the previous night, will do little to restore public confidence in the humaneness of the badger cull.
DEFRA has established a panel of independent experts to oversee the humanness of the cull, but leading scientists with expertise in animal welfare are shocked by their failure to call for much wider shoot monitoring. For pilot studies of this kind it would expected that around 50% of all shooting incidents would be monitored for humanness, but based on the figures provided by DEFRA the numbers will be closer to a tiny 4% of all the badgers to be killed.
This is of critical importance because none of the shooters to be used for the cull will have any previous experience of shooting badgers and by DEFRA’s own estimates, free shooting at night will result in possibly hundreds of badgers suffering non - fatal wounds and a long painful death from organ failure, secondary infection and starvation.
Attempts by the Prime Minister to justify the pilot cull on the basis that shooting badgers is good for their welfare as they carry TB is completely undermined by the fact that a majority of badgers live their natural lives without showing any clinical signs of TB. In fact the largest recent testing of badgers for TB undertaken during the Randomised Badger Cull trials, confirmed that only around 1% had extensive signs of the disease.
Another critical factor in the humaneness debate that worries leading scientists with expertise in bovine TB such as Lord Krebbs, is the dangerous impact of a large number of wounded badgers leading to population disruption and movement between setts, increasing the danger of spreading TB to new areas.
If the government truly cared about animal welfare and reducing the risk of spreading bovine TB more widely, they would have required all badgers to be trapped in cages before they are shot for each of the pilot culls. They have stepped back from this in view of concerns on the cost, but this leaves a policy where thousands of badgers will be shot at night in the most cruel and inhumane way.
In the coming weeks we are likely to see many disturbing images of dead and wounded badgers being circulated on Twitter and You Tube, as a result of the pilot culls and the level of public concern on the humanness and justification for this killing of a protected species will continue to grow.
If the Prime Minister wants to show real political courage he would be wise to listen to public and scientific opinion and to quote the words of animal welfare campaigner and author Jilly Cooper 'call off this of this disastrous badger cull which is going to be as brutal as it is useless,' before the first shot is fired.
Dominic Dyer is a policy consultant with Care For The Wild
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