If you live in the UK you’ll have noticed the political parties have started jostling for position, ready for the general election in May. As much as it would be nice to avoid the murky world of politics, who we vote (or don’t vote) for will have a big impact on our environment, as well as society and the economy. So, over the coming months, I will examine the main parties’ policies on various issues that I think are important for nature.
Since it’s something that I’ve covered a bit here before, I thought I’d start with the badger cull. (As the badger cull is only being done in England, I’m only going to look at English parties for this issue). Both the Conservatives and Labour have announced the line they will take on the badger cull in their manifestos. But since other parties are likely to play an important role in the outcome, I’ve also contacted the Lib Dems, UKIP and Green Party for their position on this issue.
Speaking to the National Farmers Union, Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the Tories will roll out the cull to other areas of the country, if they are elected. “We will not let up, whatever complaints we get from protesters groups. We are in it for the long haul and we will not walk away.”
The Tories see the cull as a central part of their 25 year strategy to end bovine TB. They have promised farmers to roll the cull out to other areas with high levels of TB. This is despite the pilot culls failing to reach their targets for number of badgers killed, being expensive and being found to be inhumane. When the independent committee set up to monitor the cull reported unfavourably last year, the Tory-led government disbanded the committee and carried on the cull without independent scientific oversight.
The strategy does say that any culls should (eventually) be funded privately, although the government will consider providing transitional financial support. The strategy is decidedly luke-warm on badger vaccinations, which it says should be developed, implemented and financed privately.
On the other side of the House of Commons, Labour have announced that they will scrap the “ineffective and inhumane” culls, if they are elected. Instead, they will bring in stricter measures to limit transmission between cattle, and increase both badger and cattle vaccination.
Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said this week: “Labour has consistently said that to get bovine TB under control we need to bring in stricter cattle measures and prioritise badger and cattle vaccinations, but these culls are not the answer. It’s time the Tory-led government stopped ignoring the overwhelming evidence and got together with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control.”
The Liberal Democrats have been quieter on the issue in public. When I asked them for their position, a Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We need to maintain a consistent government strategy including developing science-led ways to control this terrible disease. Badger cull trials in Gloucestershire and Somerset will continue, alongside investment in a vaccine. But we would only support further culls if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe. The TB Eradication Strategy will be fully implemented, to make England TB free within 25 years, while maintaining a viable cattle sector.”
So, it seems like, regardless of whether they are effective, humane and safe, the pilots will continue. Further culls will have to pass this test.
Perhaps their quietness on the issue is because their policy is unlikely to please the National Farmers Union, who are keen for the culls to be rolled out more widely, and also unlikely to appease the campaigners who think the cull has been a costly failure.
The commitment to implement the TB Eradication Strategy is important to note, as this document says: “The Government considers that licensed badger culling, delivered effectively, is an important bTB control measure in areas with high and persistent levels of bTB in cattle epidemiologically linked to endemic TB infection in badgers.”
When I asked UKIP for their position on the badger cull, their press office replied: “UKIP supports the trial culling of badgers for the control of Bovine TB, if veterinary opinion substantiates it.”
This is rather more nuanced than the Tory approach (which seems to be to continue the cull regardless of what anyone else thinks). The crucial “if veterinary opinion substantiates it” is interesting. So far the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have supported the culls. However, when data from the second year of the pilot culls was released back in December, the BVA expressed some reservations “The headline data continues to raise some concerns on humaneness and reveals a mixed a picture in terms of effectiveness”, and said that they needed more time to consider the data. Presumably, if the BVA came out against the pilot culls UKIP would also oppose them…
The Green Party
Like Labour, the Green Party have come out strongly against badger culling. They have repeatedly condemned the badger cull as cruel and unnecessary, and called for an immediate end to the killing. They say it is unethical and unscientific, pointing to the Independent Expert Panel report as evidence for this.
Caroline Allen, Green Party Animals Spokesperson and vet, said: “It is unbelievable that this Government is continuing to fund animal suffering after the shambles of last year’s pilot culls and the news so far suggests that this year is just as bad. In the meantime Wales has been doing what we suggested: concentrating on cattle. The results in Wales are impressive, the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as a result of TB testing having fallen by more than 50% since 2009 without a single badger being killed.”
If you’re really keen on culling as many badgers as possible then the Tories are the party for you. If, on the other hand, you’d like to see an end to the pilot culls immediately, and no further roll-out, then vote for Labour or the Greens. The Lib Dems and UKIP both sit somewhere in the middle, although UKIP are probably slightly closer to the Labour and Greens on this issue than the Lib Dems are.
Of course, few people will vote based solely on a single issue. Over the coming weeks I’ll explore where the parties stand on other key environmental issues. Let me know if there’s any particular topic you’d like me to investigate.