Why the badger cull should continue, by Gloucestershire NFU chairman Charles Mann
KATHY (name changed) put her head in her hands as Roger (also name changed) explained how TB had affected their business, their life and their marriage.
Explaining how he had decided to invest £500,000 and how excited they both were by the expansion of their herd and the promise of the future, his eyes shone. Then TB struck and his voice broke as he explained how all their plans for new housing and equipment to bring his herd forward into the 21st Century would now come to nought and, worse, would jeopardise the very core of his business.
Roger is at a loss as to why the key to the future of his life's work has been hijacked by animal rights groups, and how they are undermining the future of his farm and the whole industry.
If they care so much for animals, why do they not want healthy badgers? The 36,000 cows that are killed annually because they have TB, what of them? Do they not accept the science that badgers infect cattle with TB?
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He explains to me that all our wildlife is managed, from bird nesting boxes and feeders in our gardens to the "wildness" of Slimbridge. Badgers were protected, not because they were rare, but to halt badger baiting. Since their protection in the 1970s and with no natural predator, the population has exploded. In addition to the problems of TB, the badger is a predatory omnivore and enjoys a varied diet of birds' eggs, hedgehogs (when did you last see one, even dead on the road?), bumble bees, worms, slugs, an occasional new-born lamb, partridge chicks, voles, fruit and maize. Nature intervenes when populations are out of control by disease, in this case TB.
Nobody wants to kill badgers. People think of them as endearing animals, like Badger in Wind in the Willows, not as a carrier of a deadly disease. By managing their population we will prevent the badger becoming, like the rat, a pest, vermin.
Farming organically in the Cotswolds, I supply Waitrose with Aberdeen Angus cattle and our wheat goes to a local mill to be made into bread. We have enthusiastically embraced the Government's environmental and renewable energy schemes, investing in solar panels and a biomass heating plant, along with pollen and nectar plots for birds, butterflies and bees. We run what is known as a "closed" herd. This means that we do not bring in cattle from other farms, other than buying one new bull every five years. The cattle graze the pastures all year round, only coming into the farmyard for their regular TB testing.
Over the past four years we have had three separate cases where our local vet has turned to me with the dreaded news that one or more of our cows has bTB. In that one sentence everything changes – plans, hopes, finance. The animals must be "culled" and movement controls placed on the farm, rather like being under house arrest. These outbreaks can only have come from our resident badgers, there is no other possible cause and no way to separate our grazing cattle from infected badgers.
As chairman for Gloucestershire NFU, representing the 1,000 farm businesses in the county, the story from Roger and Kathy is a snapshot of the countless visits I have made to farmers' kitchens, hearing the same tale over and over again.
During the past couple of weeks I've been saddened at the claims of secrecy that have been levelled at farmers, the NFU and the Government regarding the pilot badger culls.
Farmers, like me, have been very open about the devastating impact bovine TB continues to have on us, our families and our businesses. We have to tackle the disease on all fronts at the same time, including the reservoir in wildlife, if we are going to be able to eradicate it.
These pilot culls need to go ahead without being disrupted. By disrupting them, the protesters are condemning both badgers and cattle to persistent disease. We must use these culls as an important step on the road to eradicating this terrible disease using every option available to us, so everyone can enjoy healthy cattle, healthy badgers and a healthy countryside.