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So we finally have the announcement today that two pilot areas have been chosen for the badger culls, in West Gloucestershire (near Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean) and West Somerset (including Taunton Deane). The Government has wanted to start killing badgers since it first got in, in May 2010, but have been wary of the public reaction. It was under pressure from farmers to act, but given that the scientific evidence does not support a cull and neither do the majority of voters, it has prevaricated and fudged and made statements at times when it hoped no-one was looking, edging its way towards today's announcement. But now we know. The killing spree is on, and the Minister says 3000 badgers will die. Imagine coming home and finding three dead badgers on your doorstep. Imagine thirty. Imagine three thousand. And most of them will be healthy badgers, not carriers of TB.
I say that the culls have been given the green light. Actually it's now up to Natural England to issue licences to farmers in the two pilot areas which will be assessed "against strict licensing criteria". Given that the Government's own view is that 70% of the badgers in an area will have to be killed for it to be an effective trial, they need plenty of farmers to come forward. N.B. This isn't a return of the old method of gassing badgers. This is what's been described as the 'Big Society badger cull' where farmers are allowed to roam free and shoot badgers on sight, or trap them first. A new bloodsport? There's understandably public concern about this, and also concern about the impact on tourism in those areas. I asked Jim Paice, the Farming Minister, at Defra Qs today how local people would be consulted. He huffed and said 'well it's in the statement'.
Actually, all the statement says is "I understand that residents in these areas may have views on the proposal to cull badgers and, as part of its assesment, Natural England will provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the applications". Which doesn't mean anything really. And which is why I asked Paice to tell me more, to no avail. Incidentally, the statement also confirms that the exact boundaries of the areas will not be revealed. "Those undertaking licensed activity [shooting badgers], and those living and working with the application area, must be protected. Therefore we do not propose to make available any further information at this stage about the exact location of the pilot areas." (I'm not sure whether "at this stage" means they'll tell us later. I don't think so).
So we know roughly, but not exactly, where the shooting will start. We know that it will go on for six weeks. And we know that it won't start till after the Olympics because the Government wants to make sure plenty of police are on hand in case there are protests.
Now obviously there are some animal rights campaigners out there who might make a bit of a nuisance of themselves. I've been frustrated in the past at the campaign tactics adopted by some, which frankly are counter-productive and don't do the cause much good. The Gladys Hammond case, digging up the corpse of an 82 year old woman whose family bred guinea pigs for medical research, was a particular low point. Anyone who thinks that's the way to try to stop the badger cull is wrong. Any criminal activity, any OTT tactics, will just play straight into the hands of those who support the cull.
There is no need for any of that. Science is on our side. See the Independent Scientific Report commissioned by the Labour government, which said in pretty straightforward terms that culling wouldn't work. I've blogged about that before. Respectable organisations like the RSPCA are on our side - see their www.backoffbadgers.co.uk campaign. And the campaigners against the sell-off of the Forest of Dean last year have given us a brilliant template of how a campaign of community resistance can work. They didn't do anything criminal or aggresive, they tied yellow ribbons round trees and had picnics in the woods and made videos... And it worked.
The Defra team is rather accident prone. They had to do a humiliating u-turn over the forests sell-off after massive public protest, and was forced to concede a ban on wild animals in circuses after it became obvious they'd lose a parliamentary vote on it (although they've since broken that promise, and their rebel backbenchers are furious). A public demonstration of dismay at the killing of badgers could force them into a rethink.
So, how to start. Signing up via the RSPCA site to lobby your MP is a start - or checking out the League Against Cruel Sport http://www.league.org.uk/ (and let the Tories know you're against a repeal of the fox hunting ban while you're at it). There's a protest outside the NFU conference in Birmingham next month, but I'm not sure who's involved. I think local action is better, frankly. If you live in or near one of the affected areas start asking questions. Let your neighbours know this is happening. See whether they want a badger cull on their doorstep!