Cult of the badger: why should they be sacrosanct?
That delightful and highly astute MP Sarah Wollaston dubbed badgers "celebrity animals" when she came to talk to farmers after Parliament had voted not to cull.
Nothing must be done to hurt badgers, not matter how much harm they do. We cull both deer and foxes to control numbers. Pheasants and snipe and woodcock are shot for fun.
But badgers must be allowed to cause mayhem throughout the countryside.
Nothing predates badgers. In fact they are the top predator. They are busy multiplying uncontrolled. They are a nuisance in crops, eating strawberries and maize in gardens and fields. They dig pits so deep in fields that lambs fall in, and a new-born calf was nearly lost in one.
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They are murder in Devon hedge banks and are a nuisance in many physical ways.
But no one has studied just how much damage badgers are doing to other wildlife. They are known as the only creature that can kill and eat hedgehogs. These have disappeared from badger country, surviving only in gardens.
Young hares and all ground-nesting birds are getting rarer – but don't blame badgers. It is no longer denied that badgers can and do transmit TB to cattle. TB has become endemic in the Westcountry, in both cattle and badgers. When cattle get it they are killed, not matter how precious to their owners, or to their young calves if they are suckler cows. But the badgers remain on the farm to keep the infection alive.
The situation now is desperate. TB is costing vast amounts of public and private money and is spreading inexorably. All the TB that badgers are harbouring in the countryside will never spontaneously disappear. It will continue to multiply.
All mammals are at risk of infection, including man. Every country that has been troubled with TB has had to clear it from whatever wildlife was carrying it, and this has been successful.
The quality of debate in Parliament when the subject was considered was unfortunate. As former Farm Minister Jim Paice said, many were "misinformed" – and that was putting it politely. The people who have been encouraging the pro-badger emotion have a lot to answer for. Why are they doing it? What are they gaining? Continued misery for farmers, cattle . . . and sick badgers.
The Government's parliamentary select committee is going to study vaccination for both badgers and cows. Perhaps they will decide that it could be useful. Who knows what the scientists may think?
But vaccination does not cure disease, it just reduces the incidence. Shall we be told how effective the human BCG vaccine is with badgers and cattle? For now there is no light at the end of the tunnel for farmers and their cattle. There will not be until an effective method of discovering which badger setts are infected is brought into use.
When these sets, and these only, can be removed legally, the problem can be solved.
The tragedy is that there are cases where this action has been taken with great effect. But it remains illegal and so is only carried out by the boldest – and the most desperate. If it were made legal, we could have healthy cattle and healthy badgers. Farmers' health would be improved too, if this dreadful scourge could be removed. But who cares for farmers, or cows and calves?
Badgers are sacred.