Biggest news stories of 2013: The badger culls
NewsTuesday 17 December 2013
It is not an overstatement to say that 2013 has been a huge year for farming news! And, therefore, here at Farming Ads, we have decided to offer you a rundown of all of the biggest stories that have taken place throughout the year.
There have been a number of controversies over the last 12 months from the CAP reform to the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. We have also seen the horsemeat scandal rock the nation, whilst the persistent bad weather early in the year made life hard for farmers. One story that also dominated news columns and had everyone talking was the badger cull.
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For other farming news, click here now.
The badger culls: In the beginning
The government announced at the very end of 2011, that the culling of badgers, to counter the spread of bovine TB, would be allowed to go ahead.
The culling would be paid for by Defra, delivered by trained operators and closely monitored by the Government. And, as an initial step, two pilot areas were selected - West Gloucestershire and West Somerset.
With the cull being planned for the autumn of 2012, it was then postponed to the summer of 2013 at the request of the National Farmers Union. This request was put in place to allow farmers to continue their preparations and have the best possible chance of carrying out the cull effectively.
Over 3,000 cows slaughtered in January due to TB
The news that the culls were being allowed to go ahead was music to the ears of many cattle farmers. However, in January 2013 it was reported that 3,215 cattle were slaughtered across the nation due to TB. This brought the total number of cattle culled, from January 2008 to January 2013, to over 180,000.
The January 2013 figures saw a sharp rise of 24.2% on the amount of cattle culled during the same period the previous year, and it also saw a jump in the month-on-month figures.
Despite a vaccination programme for badgers, which had its first year in 2012, the situation in Wales had also worsened considerably. The number of cattle slaughtered in Wales due to TB was 819 in January, which was an increase of 95.4% on the same period in 2012.
Whilst many people were in favour of the culls, they came up against plenty of opposition. One such organisation was the RSPCA, which was ‘outraged’ that the cull was allowed to go ahead. In February, the animal charity claimed that the government was ignoring public, parliamentary, EU Commission and scientific opinion in doing so.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “Despite overwhelming scientific, public and parliamentary opposition the Government seems hell bent on pressing forward with their senseless plans to kill badgers.
“All the evidence shows that the answer to the problems of bovine TB in cattle does not lie in a cull that will be an ineffective, wasteful and potentially damaging to the welfare of both farm and wild animals.
“We care about cattle and badgers alike and have great sympathy for the farmers dealing with the effects of this disease – but killing badgers is not the answer.”
The RSPCA then offered a number of alternatives to the cull, suggesting restricted cattle movement and vaccination of both badger and cattle along with more biosecurity.
The public were asked
Whilst the RSPCA and some other charities opposed the cull, a YouGov poll was carried out that revealed that only 34% of the public opposed the badger cull. This figure, however, was higher than the amount which supported it (29%), whilst 22% didn’t know and 15% claimed to have no strong feelings.
The survey also revealed that over a quarter people (27%) opposed to a cull, would change their mind if it meant that TB did not spread to other areas of the country.
Out of the 1,763 people who were asked, only 2% considered the cull to be one of the most important issues facing the country at that point in time.
The NFU welcomed the report, with Adam Quinney, the Vice President, saying: “The findings of this survey by YouGov show that the majority of people, 66% either support the cull, have no strong feeling or simply don’t know.”
The culls went ahead
The pilot badger culls went ahead as planned and come the middle of October they were coming to an end. The cull in Gloucestershire took place over six weeks and ended up removing 708 badgers, which was just over 30% of the revised local badger population. The initial target was 70%.
Therefore the culls were extended, with Natural England granting the company in charge the opportunity to continue the culls in the county until the 18th December 2013. However, these extended culls in Gloucestershire were abandoned come the end of November, due to the targets not being met.
The other area that was specified for the pilot culls was West Somerset, and this cull also failed to meet its target - even with a three-week extension. The cull ended come the end of the extension with an estimated 65% reduction in the badger population within the zone, when the target was 70%. Defra said 940 badgers were shot in total.