Fresh from the political kicking he's getting over the floods it's not clear whether Environment secretary Owen Paterson has got his sights set on another badger cull or not. But badgeristas up and down the country aren't taking any chances and are keeping the pressure on.
The badger culls in 2013 were disrupted by constant direct action, and failed to reach their targets, but culling is still being considered for summer this year. Natural England has told landowners wanting to cull to start preparing their applications, although the supposedly independent expert panel has yet to release their assesment of the previous cull. Other options are also being considered include contraceptive injections for badgers.
There are protests against the badger cull coming up in towns and cities all round the country, including two in Birmingham that target the National Farmers Union conference on the 25th Feb. The NFU have been the main advocates for the cull, providing financial and practical support to the operation. Then there are demos in St Alban's, Stratford upon Avon and Exeter in March. There won't be any culling during the winter so campaigners are focussing on stopping new areas from signing up to the cull. Some local councils and large landowners have stated they will not support a cull, and there are numerous petitions to ask more councils to reject culling.
SchNEWS spoke to Brighton Stop the Cull : “The badger cull is supposed to be about stopping bovine TB, as badgers can transmit the disease. The ethics of killing wildlife to prop up the intensive farming industry may be dubious. However, in this case at least, it just doesn't work anyway. Killing badgers is a bizarre distraction from solving the real problems involved with the dairy industry.” See Schnews 836 for more about Bovine TB and the dairy industry.
The government has now released the rather small amount of information about the cull that they intend to tell the public (although perhaps even this was by accident, apparently). The most interesting thing about this is the extreme spin doctoring involved. Owen Paterson has even admitted stretching some of the statistics about how many herds have been infected with TB since 2011.
The original stated aim was to kill 70% of the badger population of the cull zones. At that point DEFRA were claiming that 7900 badgers were in the cull zones.The estimate of the population then took a steep dive soon before the cull started. This statistical skullduggery means that if the 70% of the original population estimate had been killed, there would be no badgers left at all. In the end DEFRA worked out that 1016 were killed by 'free shooting' which was the method being trialled. In desperation the method was changed to trapping and shooting which allegedley took the figure up to 1879, which definitely isn't 70%, whichever population estimate you use! SchNEWS awaits the announcement that Somerset isn't underwater at all and that any evidence to the contrary can be put down to the weather 'moving the goalposts'.
The pilot culls are also supposed to be testing whether free shooting is effective and humane. There was never any method to seriously assess whether the deaths were humane, nor post mortems to see how many badgers were actually infected. In previous trials only 1% of badgers were infectious. Cases of TB had already fallen before the cull started because stricter biosecurity had been introduced, leaving the effect of culling to be interpreted however you wish. If you were even allowed to see the data that is.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association , the prime movers behind co-ordinating on the ground resistance to the cull say the badger cull has resulted in lots more people getting involved in direct action against bloodsports. They said “Every single night of the cull so far there have been people out directly stopping it, including many not normally inclined to pushing the boundaries of the law.” There's also been an upsurge in the market for badger costumes as a result of numerous demos to save this iconic species (although SchNEWS reckons a panda costume'd do in a pinch). There's a very popular sticker campaign run by Stop the Cull to vote out the Tories because of the badgers. (Sadly Labour have weighed in, with shadow environment spokeswoman Maria Eagle saying “This isn’t about being sentimental, I’m not one of those people who says that no badgers should ever be culled)
The pilot culls are supposed to run for four years and be extended to new areas, but the future of the whole project is currently twisting in the wind. What is clear is that if it does continue opposition will be huge. Even those who don't care about furry animals are angry that it cost £4000 to kill each badger so far.
For more info on how to get involved on the streets or in the fields - Stop the Cull