The thought of having to undertake poison gas trials is enough to scare off even the most pro cull politicians
Two days before the start of the badger cull, I was interviewed by ITN News outside of the High Court to react to the legal moves by the National Farmers Union to seek an injunction not just against direct action groups who opposed the cull, but also peaceful law abiding protesters.
Predictably the media were looking for stories about how extreme animal rights activists would react to the start of the cull, but I stated my belief that the vast of majority of people who would protest, would do so in a peaceful and dignified way in the form of wounded badger patrols and badger vigils and marches across the country.
Over the past two weeks as the badger culls have got underway in Somerset and Gloucestershire, my predictions have proved correct but on a much larger scale than even I imagined. We have seen hundreds of people from across the country and Europe travel to the cull zones to spend their nights on wounded badger patrols, which have captured the interest of the media in Britain and around the world. We have seen candle lit vigils and marches for badgers in towns such as Northampton, Bedford and Kettering and on the 7 September, I found myself standing on a hill in Taunton speaking to over 500 people from across the country (see video above), who were united in their determination to oppose the cull and protect badgers.
The petition against the cull closed with a record breaking 303,000 signatories and now over 4 million National Trust Members will be voting at their AGM on 26 October in Cardiff, on a motion to stop any badger culling on farms on National Trust owned land.
Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs who had their arm twisted by their Party Whips to vote for the badger cull in the last Parliamentary debate, are also increasingly having second thoughts on the policy as hundreds of their constituents contact them strongly opposing the killing of badgers. This is leading to a rapid increase in the number of MPs signing an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to have a further debate in Westminster once the pilot culls are completed and before any decisions are taken on a national cull policy.
On the Scientific front, we have also seen growing anger and dismay at the failure of the Government to test badgers for TB during the pilot culls. This is despite the fact that the NFU has been calling for tests and that new DNA sampling techniques could tell us more about the various strains of TB found in badgers and how this transmits to cattle.
Owen Paterson failed miserably to defend the no testing decision on Channel 4 News on the day the cull started. His position has been further undermined by claims from the Government Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens, that DEFRA has no hard and fast rules on what constitutes a humane kill and how they will decide if the cull has been a success on humaneness grounds.
To make matters worse for Owen Paterson, one of the key scientific experts in the area of Bovine TB Professor Christl Donnelly made a speech in Cambridge last week, which not only pinned the blame for TB in badgers on cattle and intensive livestock systems, but also raised fears that by reducing badger numbers by culling, we could reinforce the spread of the disease in the remaining population and see increased perturbation as badgers repopulate vacant setts.
The issue of farm biosecurity has also come back into the spotlight, with DEFRA confirming to the Sunday Times that despite 78 million cattle movements in the UK over the last 6 years they have only mounted 24 investigations for TB related fraud, which resulted in 11 prosecutions.
It is also becoming clear that free shooting is turning into a disaster as a means of killing badgers. The Government set out to kill around 5,300 badgers in six weeks pilot trial, but reliable reports leaked by senior DEFRA officials indicate that less than 100 badgers were killed within the first two weeks of the cull. Making this one of the most expensive wildlife culling projects in history, with each badger shot coming in with a price tag of around £10,000 each.
Civil servants have turned on Owen Paterson for failing to address their concerns on the effectiveness of free shooting prior to the cull and are now desperately having to recruit more skilled labour from veterinary colleges to move to a widespread trap and shoot exercise to complete the cull. This will no doubt mean extending the trial cull period beyond its planned 6 weeks, resulting in sky rocketing costs to a point where it will be cheaper to trap and vaccinate badgers rather than trap and shoot them, which is increasing public anger.
At farm meetings around the country hosted by DEFRA to discuss their TB eradication strategy, farmers are increasingly calling for gassing to be used as a means of badger control. DEFRA admit undertaking research on the use of gas filled foam to kill badgers, but the thought of having to undertake poison gas trials at Porton Down to prove its effectiveness, is enough to scare off even the most pro cull politicians and farmers.
Owen Paterson has put a huge amount of his personal credibility on the line to back the badger cull policy and is looking increasingly nervous on the outcome ahead of the Tory Party Conference and a Cabinet reshuffle. His officials are in open revolt and once the Cabinet Secretary informs the Prime Minister that he no can no longer command their respect and confidence, he could soon find himself joining Caroline Spellman on the back benches.
The National Farmers Union is also in serious trouble on the cull policy, it looks increasingly like an organisation out of touch with the public and an increasing number of farmers. It has burned its bridges with all the major conservation and wildlife protection organisations in the UK on the badger cull and can no longer be taken seriously as the voice of environmentally responsible farming.
The Badger cull debate is now far more than a discussion about TB management in cattle, it's a wake up call to millions of people across the country about how we value wildlife and the natural world and how we need to stand up protect it against powerful industries and their political supporters.
From the shooting of buzzards and hares on country estates to protecting our coastline with Marine Nature Reserves and the future of our bees, millions are coming together through organisations such as Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and wildlife charities such as Care for the Wild. We are a hugely powerful force that can no longer be ignored by politicians, farmers, landowners or industry leaders.
I spend last Saturday evening with Arnie Graf a leading American civil rights and community organiser who is credited with being a mentor to the young Barak Obama in Chicago in the 1980's. Arnie was talking on the issue of campaigning and how to mobilise people to bring about positive social and environmental change. When he asked the audience if they could give a good example of a grass roots campaign in the UK which had brought thousands of people from different backgrounds for a positive cause, the answer came back loud and clear - the anti badger cull campaign.
Dominic Dyer is Policy Advisor for Care for the Wild International