Tag Archives: badger cull

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.
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Election summary

Thank goodness there’s only one day to go until the election. In case you still haven’t decided whom to vote for, here’s a quick summary of where the parties stand on some issues relating to wildlife and the environment.

Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues
Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues

Of course, this table is a very simplified summary. If you want to find out more, please read the full posts:

Fellow blogger Georgia Locock has been looking through the party manifestos to see what they have to say on a variety of other nature issues (sadly, in most of cases she’s investigated, most of the parties have little to say, reflecting the importance they place on these issues). Do have a look at her posts, as they provide a useful summary of the issues, even if the party manifestos are uninformative:

I hope that, if you can vote in the UK, you will consider some of these issues (along with other important things like the NHS) when deciding who to vote for. And if you’re wavering on whether to vote or not, please do, as there is real difference between the parties on some of these issues.

I’m looking forward to normal service resuming on this blog, focusing on my wildlife adventures rather than politics. But we only get a chance to vote in a national election once every five years, so we need to make the most of it.

Election focus: the badger cull

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.

The Conservatives

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.

Labour

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.”

Liberal Democrats

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.”

UKIP

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.”

Conclusion

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.

 

Top posts from 2014

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good chance to look back over what’s happened. I’ve been going through the stats to see which posts have had the most views (per month) in 2014. Here are the top 10:

10) 10 more Christmas present ideas for wildlife enthusiasts: It seems lots of people are looking for inspiration for Christmas presents. I just hope Dr C is among them!

9) Looking for harvest mice at an airport: my (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to see micromys minutus in the unusual setting of Gatwick Airport.

8) Fascinating wildlife fact #11: sharks don’t have bones: a short but interesting glimpse into the anatomy of sharks.

7) On the trail of wild beavers: an account of an expedition to find traces of the first beavers living wild in the UK for hundred of years, and the campaign to keep them that way.

6) Hope for the River Otter beavers: An update on the saga of whether the beavers who were discovered living wild on the River Otter will be allowed to stay free, or rehomed to a zoo. No doubt there will be more posts about this topic next year, as there’s still no definite plans.

5) Kingfishers: Another post from the River Otter (3 in the top 10!). This time it’s some of my better attempts at photographing kingfishers. Still room for improvement, but I’m getting better at it!

4) How to tell who’s been nibbling your nuts: This post outlines how to tell the difference between a nut nibbled by a squirrel, woodmouse, bank vole or dormouse. It contains close up photos to help with identification.

3) Dormouse license! I’ve finally received my dormouse license. This post reflects on what this means, and  the journey to get this far…

2) 5 more recent posts that have made me think: This post links to 5 posts by other bloggers that have made me think. It includes reintroduction of large carnivores in the UK, the hunting act, hedgehogs, flooding, and Christian’s relationship with nature.

1) Plan to cull badger cubs shows the cull’s not about bovine TB: Like the River Otter beavers, the badger cull has been a saga with many twists and turns. This post discusses the recent announcement that the timing of the culls next year will be moved forward to when cubs are first emerging from the sets.

 

Plan to cull badger cubs shows the cull’s not about bovine TB

The Guardian reported this afternoon that next year’s badger cull will start earlier, in June or July, when badger cubs will be young and inexperienced. This means they will be easier to trap and kill than cubs later in the year. This will help the cullers achieve their target numbers of badgers killed, but will not help them reduce bovine TB.

For badger culling to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cows, the scientific evidence shows that a large proportion of badgers need to be killed. So far, the cullers have missed their targets. On the face of it, starting earlier in the year, when cubs are easier to kill, may help them. But in reality it’s likely to have little impact on the spread of the disease for two reasons:

  1. Many cubs die in their first year anyway, so shooting them will have less effect on the badger population than killing the same number of older badgers.
  2. Cubs are less likely to be infected with TB than adults, so aren’t the badgers that are most likely to spread the disease to cattle.

This provides further evidence that the cull is not really about reducing bovine TB – at best it’s about looking like they’re trying to reduce bovine TB. I realise this makes me sound like one of the crazy conspiracy theorists that abound on the internet. But, as discussed in previous posts (The badger cull: an ‘evidence to policy’ perspective; Badgering pays off at last) the cull so far has shown no signs of meeting the conditions necessary to have an impact on the disease. To carry on with it in the face of evidence from the government’s own advisory panel saying it’s neither effective nor humane, hints at the politics behind the cull. To then introduce further measures that are likely to increase the numbers of badgers culled without reducing transmission is a very cynical ploy.

Bovine TB is a big problem. But it doesn’t justify an expensive, ineffective, inhumane cull that has already cost the tax payer millions, and has little chance of making a difference. The government and National Farmers Union need to look at other ways to tackle the problem, rather than ignore or distort the scientific evidence.

Badgering pays off at last!

Good news – the government has finally decided to listen to the  evidence and put a stop to plans to roll out the badger cull.
The pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire aimed to see:
  • if culling using free shooting could kill enough badgers 70%) to reduce bovine TB
  • if it was a humane way of killing badgers
  • if it was safe
My previous blog post on the evidence for and against the cull discusses this. Suffice it to say, the pilot culls failed miserably on the first two criteria. It’s only success was that no-one was hurt.
Despite the overwhelming evidence on the failure of the pilot culls, the high costs and widespread public and political opposition to them, it was by no means certain that the government would pull the plug on the idea of rolling them out. The National Farmers Union have continued to push for them. But we now know they won’t be expanded to new areas.
The government have also announced a programme of vaccinating badgers around the edges of areas with high levels of bovine TB.
Badger
It’s not all good news for badgers, though.  Culling of badgers in the pilot cull zones will be allowed to continue, with no monitoring.  This seems bizarre, given the pilots found that closely scrutinised free shooting was inhumane. Unmonitored killing is hardly likely to be more humane. Obviously that no longer matters…
The culls have, from the start, been more about politics than evidence. I have no doubt that the decision not to expand the cull is mainly due to the campaigns against it, rather than whether the cull was likely to reduce bovine TB. Well done to all who campaigned against the cull, and the activists who monitored the cull.