EXCLUSIVE: Clegg backs badger cull
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg is calling for a targeted cull of badgers in the Westcountry in a bid to tackle the spread of TB in cattle herds.
In an apparent U-turn since dismissing calls for a cull a year ago, Mr Clegg told a panel of WMN readers that something must be done "irrespective" of advice from scientists or ministers.
Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg answering questions at the China Fleet Club in Saltash yesterday
In the hour-long meeting, Mr Clegg condemned the behaviour of MPs over their expense claims, reiterated his support for the Post Office network, ruled out supporting the repeal of the Hunting Act and warned the Lib-Dem proposal for a local income tax could prove "impractical" in the short-term.
But his surprise support for a targeted pilot cull of diseased badgers was in stark contrast to remarks made to this newspaper a year ago, when he insisted he could not "second-guess" scientific evidence, blamed a lack of resources at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and warned, "I'm afraid that you are not going to get" a cull of badgers.
Mr Clegg said yesterday that the geography of the Westcountry – surrounded by the sea – made it ideally suited to a pilot scheme. Concerns have previously been raised that a cull would only serve to drive infected badgers into other areas and the coastline would act as a natural barrier.
The policy reversal comes as the spread of bovine tuberculosis worsens in the Westcountry. Mr Clegg was told that, in the last year alone, the rate of infection in Cornwall increased by some 40 per cent.
Martin Howlett, Cornwall chairman of the National Farmers' Union, said a targeted cull of badgers was needed to "deliver healthy wildlife as well as healthy livestock".
"We have had such a problem with disease in wildlife – we have got to get on top of it.
"Where we lose our vital livestock industry hand over fist, you see wildlife suffering without any form of control."
Last week, Conservative environment spokesman Nick Herbert said he would back a targeted cull of infected badgers as part of the party's strategy to tackle the disease.
Labour ministers have rejected a badger cull, pinning their hopes on a vaccine to control the problem. This follows a 10-year study by the Independent Study Group (ISG) which concluded that culling could not "meaningfully contribute" to the control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area.
But former Government chief scientist Sir David King argued a mass cull did have a part to play in the hardest-hit areas like the South West, which last year saw a record number of outbreaks.
Challenged to support the Tory position, Mr Clegg insisted it was time for action to be taken in the Westcountry.
"I am no scientist, but even by the laborious standards of scientific proof, it really beggars belief that it has taken them 10 years to still not take a decision.
"I think now the time has come that, irrespective of what scientists say, irrespective of what ministers say, in this part of the country let's at least just try out a pilot cull."
And he added: "I don't say that lightly because I am acutely aware that there are many people who are implacably opposed to a cull for reasons that are well beyond science – concerns about welfare and some argue the morality."