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Holding fire on cull could see rise in TB

By Wells Journal  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

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I cannot ignore the agricultural topic of the week which has dominated even national headlines – the decision to postpone the planned badger cull in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset until next year.

The reason for the postponement is that the NFU, which has been organising the cull, decided it would not be possible to cull the required 70 per cent of the population within the cull areas in the short time left available this year before the "closed period" starts when badgers are not allowed to be culled while they may have young underground.

The reason for this change is that it was discovered there were twice the number of badgers in the cull areas than had been anticipated.

There has obviously been a massive reaction to this announcement with many farmers dismayed, badger supporters pleased, MPs voting against the cull in Parliament last Thursday and the NFU maintaining their position that the cull will go ahead next year.

However, amongst all this hullabaloo I have heard no one mention the first thing that came in to my mind which was whether the much higher density of badgers is itself one of the reasons that the disease is such a problem in these areas.

I remember when I studied population dynamics as part of a Zoology degree over 20 years ago, there were many examples of diseases becoming limiting factors in the growth of populations.

These density dependent factors are common and I just wondered whether TB is perhaps one of those diseases which may be becoming more and more prevalent in the badger population as it grows.

It is clear the population has increased dramatically since badgers became protected under the Badger Act 1992 but because the last national population survey took place as long ago as the late 1990s, no one has a clear idea as to the current size of the UK badger population.

Anecdotal evidence suggests badger numbers have continued to increase since the 1990s and the latest information gathered in relation to the proposed cull areas seems to support this but the size of the population found appears to have taken everyone by surprise.

So I have to question whether the continued legal protection of badgers, irrespective of the TB question is either necessary or justified.

Why it is legal to kill a fox or a deer but not a badger?

Culling of deer is well recognised as an important management tool to keep the population healthy and I have to ask whether the same principle may apply to badgers?

I appreciate such thinking is politically unacceptable but is there any point at which the badger population will ever be considered too high or is the badger to receive legal protection forever no matter how large its population becomes?

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  • normagee3  |  November 02 2012, 8:42PM

    I just wonder when this bombardment of badger articles is going to stop? Have the journalists nothing else to write about? I can think of many issues requiring some good old-fashioned research; gathering of facts and reporting to readers. The writing over the past few days has been so opinionated. What about the ash-trees? Or are our black and white friends going to be blamed for that too? The balance of nature is now beginning to break down due to mankind. I would like to see an article on how we can address this challenge because it will, without a doubt, affect farming. No short term measures or pilot culls will put matters right because we are now on the slippery slope to disaster. We have all played a part in this and unless every issue is addressed with good factual sense and £ signs for eyeballs are buried, the death knell tolls for both wildlife and farming. And no, I'm not making this up - I've been in the area of conservation long enough to recognise the signs and frankly, it looks bad.

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  • Jennypenny  |  November 02 2012, 8:33PM

    Deer are a prey species & left unchecked they do untold damage to their habitat. We have wiped out their natural predator, the wolf, so humans have to control numbers . Badger on the other hand are at the top of their ecological niche & have never had a larger predator control their numbers, so why would they need one now? This cull isn't suppose to be about population control is it?

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  • Clued-Up  |  November 02 2012, 2:26PM

    Nature's very good at maintaining animal populations in balance, in the absence of clumsy and counterproductive interference by human beings. As territorial animals, there'll never be too many badgers in any one location - they don't tolerate being crowded and population growth is limited by the availability of food (eg earthworms) within their territory. The writer's suggestion that perhaps TB is spreading within the badger population seems improbable. Surveys of dead badgers have found only 1%- 2% badgers are affected by TB badly enough to be infectious. Badgers are legally protected because of persecution by badger baiters and others, not because they are scarce. Sadly, that legal protection is even more necessary today because badgers have been scapegoated by the NFU and others as a major source of cattle bTB infection (they aren't).

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