Badger forecast: Dark shadows and strong breezes

If I was a badger in England I would look up at the sky right now, because although the sight may be scary at the moment, there may be some hope for the future.It’s good to look up into the sky every now and then to check what the weather is doing.

It gives you perspective, it grounds you in reality, and it helps you to be prepared for what’s to come.

Let’s do that for a moment.

Almost two years have passed since we started writing about the Badger cull in England. What was initially just an unlikely threat to wildlife, it soon became a gruesome and disconcerting reality, as mass killing of any protected wild animal is ’as bad as it gets‘ as far as our relationship with Nature is concerned, and ignoring science and common sense in tackling health issues is the stuff of madness.

This journey is far from over, and although both the gravity of the issue and the public outcry have not diminished, many things have changed since day one (such as an increase in opposition to the cull from politicians). How long is this going to last?

We should not have to keep defending the badgers forever, instead we want their protected status to be respected by everyone so they no longer need us.

If I was a badger and looked at the sky right now, what sort of weather I would be seeing? I would be seeing two very menacing dark clouds casting a very sombre shadow, but I would also be seeing that some strong breezes may be starting to push the shadows away.

The ‘dark shadows’ are the two pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire that are set to continue this year, and in fact could start any day now. Licences to kill badgers in these areas have already been given, and since June 1, the people that hold them have been allowed to start shooting badgers.

People championing badgers in these areas have been already organising their Wounded Badger  Patrols as they did last year (which IFAW supported) . GABS and Somerset Against the Cull have mobilised their supporters to begin their work on the ground, and they are calling on more people to come to help them, as there will be lots to do when the cull begins.

They have not reported any signs of shooting yet, but they know that it could start at any time, despite the fact that a Judicial Review  against the pilots has been applied for by the Badger Trust on the grounds of the lack of independent monitoring of the pilots, and a complaint to the Bern Convention has been sent by several organisations in Team Badger on the grounds of the lack of an impact assessment of the cull on other wild species.

The ’strong breezes’ that bring us hope have come in the form of badger vaccination and more restriction on cattle movements. Several local badger vaccination projects have recently started, such as one in Dorset organised by Dorset Badger Vaccination Project  (which IFAW is supporting) and  one in Derbyshire run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

Also, in a recent meeting attended by IFAW, the Government consulted wildlife and farmers  groups about how best to encourage volunteers to take up their offer of match funding for badger vaccination in certain areas. The Minister even popped his head in to answer questions, showing his support for the vaccination agenda.

IFAW asked why the funding would only be available in certain areas, none of which are the ‘high risk’ areas, and his response wasn’t very convincing. But the ray of sunshine was that for that day, the Government, farmers and wildlife groups came together to talk constructively about how to encourage vaccination.

However we have ultimately been campaigning for vaccination to replace culling, so the vaccination needs to take place particularly in the areas where Btb is higher and badgers are threatened with culling.  Our hope is that in the future the Government will follow the example of Wales and ditch the culling altogether in favour of vaccination, although we have not seen any sign of this yet.

Another breath of fresh air comes from the change in regulations that will restrict the movement of cattle by increasing testing and removing some exemptions that may have caused the spread of Btb outbreaks in the past. We have always believed that cattle movement has been the major cause of the epidemic, not badgers, so this is definitely a good step forward. In fact, similar measures taken on this aspect as well as on improving biosecurity have recently already shown a reduction of outbreaks, which should have made DEFRA realise that this is the way to go, rather than killing wildlife.

If I was a badger in England I would look up at the sky right now, because although the sight may be scary at the moment, there may be some hope for the future.

--JC

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