Badger cull a pressing topic
LAST week I played host to Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when he visited our constituency.
We started with a breakfast meeting with a group from the Devon branch of the Federation of Small Businesses on the challenges facing rural businesses – like slow broadbrand, flooding, the tourism industry and access to finance.
I then took Mr Paterson to Bycott Farm, Halberton, to meet Steve Dibble and his family, the owner of Four Seasons Tree Services, a business specialising in tree surgery, landscaping, fencing and kindling supplies.
Mr Paterson heard about the challenges the industry faced as well as the effect diseases like ash dieback and phytophthora ramorum are having on the environment.
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Later, we had a meeting with the South West National Farmers' Union. About 100 farmers from across the region came to hear Mr Paterson speak and put questions to him.
The badger cull and tackling bovine TB in cattle was the most pressing topic. This devastating disease ruins farmers' livelihoods, threatens food security and causes agony in cattle. In 2011, 26,509 cattle across England had to be slaughtered because of it. Over 22 per cent were from Devon. In the last 10 years it has cost the taxpayer £500m. It is an emotive topic, but as has been shown in Ireland, culling does reduce the levels of TB in cattle. Since 2000, TB in cattle has fallen from 40,000 to 18,500.
The interesting fact from the meeting was that Mr Paterson had received more death threats as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from animal rights activists because of the badger cull than at any time when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I think it goes to show how far some individuals arguing against the cull are willing to go.
I then went to Uplyme to meet the parish council, along with county councillor Jim Knight, to look at ways of preventing flooding. Uplyme has been flooded four times in two years, partly because of a large concrete structure that contains BT cables. I have written to BT asking them to contribute to moving it.