This week, Liz Truss, the Conservative Environment Secretary, promised to continue the existing badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire and then extend it across England. Thousands more badgers would be shot if the Conservatives won the general election, she said, as the Tories were committed to a 25-year strategy.
I’ve made no secret of my opposition to this cull. In 2011, I went to 10 Downing Street with the Badger Protection League to hand in a large petition against it. I believe that we have responsibilities for animal welfare and obligations to treat animals, wild and domestic, humanely.
I’ve followed the evidence. The last report of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) said that the badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset had been both ineffective and inhumane. It was no surprise that the Government stopped all independent oversight and scrutiny of its policy.
As Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “The cull policy should stop as it has clearly failed on scientific, humaneness and cost grounds. The transmission rate of TB from badgers to cattle is less than 6 per cent. The key route of infection is cattle-to-cattle transfer.” He noted that the Welsh government strategy, which involves badger vaccination and controls on cattle movements but no culling, had halved new herd infections in the past five years.
On this issue, the Conservatives, supported by the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, have consistently put posturing before good policy, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus, and prejudice before science. The badger cull is both discredited and embarrassing.
What is needed is continued work with farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists to take forward an alternative strategy to eradicate bovine TB. This would include badger vaccination and enhanced cattle bio-security measures.
Your vote at the general election will actually decide the fate of local badgers. Vote Conservative and the badger cull comes here, quickly followed by a return of fox-hunting with the repeal of the Hunting Act. It’s a clear dividing line.