Don't condemn the badger without knowing the facts!

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Fascinating animal: This illustration by John Davis is from Badgers, by Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman, published by Poyser Natural History.

A weekly appreciation of nature.

Sean Wood

Sean Wood

It must be time to pick on badgers again, because last weekend saw hundreds of protesters in the Peak District, kicking up a fuss over the Government's decision to sanction the cull of several thousand badgers in Derbyshire over the next three years.

'Why would they do this?' you might ask. Well, it is felt in some quarters that badgers are solely responsible for the passing of bovine TB to cattle.
And this latest round of killing is designed to weigh up, whether or not, large numbers of badgers in the county have TB, and further, whether they are the cause of any cross infection.

The simple answer is 'yes' - it is very likely that in some circumstances badgers do pass on TB to cattle.But hey, one did not need to be a genius or a wildlife expert to understand this. The Ministry of Agriculture have gassed upwards of 30,000 badgers in the past 30 years to discover this possibility. Cyanide gas at that.

In practice, it was killing them during the day when the animals were in their sett, and then filled in the holes with any uninfected or infected animals entombed. So how did they test the dead animals? Good question.

During the early seventies evidence was gathered in the most medieval of fashions. For example, first you take one live infected badger, then you place it in a shed with one live uninfected cow.
Then you leave them for several days to eat, sleep and walk around in each others' droppings and daily business. After waiting for a suitable period, you then check if the cow has contracted the disease.
You then don a white coat and a man from the ministry badge and say: "Yes the badger has passed on TB, we must immediately poison the badgers for miles around."

This method reminded me of the 'ducking-stool-test' for witches. First you tie up the suspect, before immersing her/him in the water. Wait for a few minutes, and then if the unfortunate wretch drowned, she/he was deemed innocent. Whereas if they survived the ducking then they were promptly executed.

Thankfully, we have progressed a little in the past 30 years with regard to this problem. Badgers are now trapped instead of poisoned and there are ongoing experiments with vaccines.


However, as the recent threat to the badgers of Derbyshire illustrates, in many ways, we are still no nearer to finding a solution.
So far, in this debate, the badger has been convicted on circumstantial evidence. Although in localised situations this evidence would be difficult to debunk, it is still nevertheless circumstantial. And in a court of law it would not stand up. So what do we do? There is still much to learn about the 'link' between badgers and cattle and, of course, tuberculosis.
One thing I can say without fear of contradiction is that mass indiscriminate slaughter is not the answer.


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