Badger Trust Meets Environment Secretary

Badger Trust meets with Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Badger Trust Chairman Peter Martin and CEO Dominic Dyer met with Environment Secretary Michael Gove on Tuesday 24th October to discuss a range of serious concerns with the current badger culling policy. The meeting follows a number of previous meetings with MP’s and advisers to the Prime Minister, to see if a better way forward can be reached over a TB policy that is clearly failing in England compared, to the much more effective strategy employed in Wales.

“The meeting was good natured and constructive,” says Dominic Dyer. “We covered a wide range of topics from the origins of the policy to it’s basic failure to address the spread of bovine TB. On taking office, Michael Gove publicly announced that he intended to review the science around badger culling and he seemed genuinely engaged and interested in what we had to say.”

“We had a number of specific requests for immediate action,” continues Dominic Dyer. “The first was that we are aware a large number of badgers from last year’s culls were tested for TB but that Defra had so far refused to release figures on how many were infected. We urged him to make this information public for the benefit of all. We also asked that Defra be far more open to contact and discussion with wildlife NGOs and other stakeholders with an interest in badger culling and the wider TB eradication policy. We pointed out that we have excellent access to the Welsh government’s TB team at the highest level and that they seemed far more open and accountable.”

“Whilst we reiterated all the standard concerns about inhumaneness and the danger of rapid extinction of the badgers population,” comments Peter Martin, “we also impressed on the Secretary of State that the whole TB eradication policy was both flawed and completely inadequate. Farmers simply cannot wait twenty five years to resolve this problem and that a fundamental rethink of the policy was needed. We highlighted the complete inadequacy of the cattle testing regime, the lack of proper risk based trading for farmers and bio-security advice that was too little, too late and not enforceable by Defra.”

“We asked the Minister to address the failure of Defra to employ the more effective Gamma Interferon test in the High Risk Area of the South West and to fast track development of even more effective tests such as Phage PCR,” continues Peter Martin. “We pointed out that there was no hard scientific evidence of how or to what extent badgers can infect cattle with TB, while the latest studies showed that badgers actively avoid contact with cattle. We pointed our that the government had already spent nearly £40 million pounds of taxpayers’ money on culling badgers with no evidence that it was having any effect or would have in the future.”

“When asked our opinion on the origins of the culls and why they had been started,” continues Peter Martin, “we said the idea was based on a deep seated and misinformed opinion among many farmers and landowners that badgers were to blame for bovine TB and that killing them was the only solution. We pointed out that TB is a complex epidemiological problem and that a crude, indiscriminate cull was a rather grotesque, medieval solution that had somehow survived into the 21st century. The culls are in fact a costly and dangerous distraction from getting on with the real business of eradicating TB.”

“These meetings never last long enough,” concludes Dominic Dyer, “but we left Michael Gove with a lot to think about. We had the distinct impression he really wants to get to grips with the issue and make a difference rather than just stick to a failing policy that is causing more problems than it is solving. We ended by expressing serious concerns about how the culls were being handled on the ground with little or no supervision by the NFU or Police regarding firearms safety, the number of badgers actually being killed and some very worrying reports of violence by cull supporters.”

Andy Hamilton