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How long will our ancient Britons sleep safe and sound in their homelands?

Posted: Tuesday 4th June 2013 by TimBirch

Badger Andrew Mason

Licences for pilot badger culls came into force in Gloucestershire and Somerset at the weekend. Along with other Wildlife Trusts, we are appealing for funds to support a badger vaccination programme as an alternative.

I recently came across the large sett in the photograph deep in a wood in a remote part of Derbyshire. The size of the sett and its many and varied entrances with the huge mounds of earth at the entrance to the sett was truly astonishing. It was clear that countless generations of badgers had lived in this underground home stretching back hundreds of years. These prodigious diggers had transformed the landscape around the sett.

Badgers can truly lay claim to this land. They have roamed the ancient woods and valleys of England for over 300,000 years. They have seen bears, wolves and lynx driven to extinction in these islands but they have endured. They have been weaved into our folklore and our literature. Old Brock has been the watcher in the woods for thousands of years. Now he is facing his biggest threat from a Government intent on waging a war against the badger in its attempts to eliminate the scourge of bovine TB. The badger is literally in the firing line. The Government’s plan, according to the Environment Secretary recently, is to roll out an almost never ending cull for decades with over 100,000 badgers at risk of being shot. This is truly alarming. We are in the middle of the BBC Springwatch series where millions of people around the UK watch and celebrate the wonderful and inspiring wildlife that inhabits these islands with us. Yet at the same time a badger cull will be taking place in Somerset and Gloucestershire in order to find out how effective shooting these wonderful mammals will be. Many people are rightly dismayed at this appalling situation.

The science is perfectly clear – there will be no significant benefit to solving the bovine TB problem through proceeding with a cull. Only last week I was driving into work and heard the famous UK zoologist John Krebs on Radio 4. He led the biggest ever 10-year study into bovine TB and badgers and he once again said that the science is clear and that culling badgers will not solve the bovine TB problem. His view was that the science was being ignored and a political decision had been taken by the Government to cull badgers. A sad state of affairs. It would seem that Governments will pick and choose when to use or not use science to justify their policies.

It reminds me of the abuse of science to justify the ongoing “scientific whaling” by the Japanese in the waters of the Antarctic.

The current cull proposed by this Government, over a minimum 25-year period, could potentially wipe out over one third of all badgers in England. They could become locally and regionally extinct. Yet we are a stronghold for the Eurasian badger, being privileged to support over 20 per cent of the world population. We have a duty to ensure these wonderful animals are protected and have an international responsibility to do so. To shoot them in such large numbers to supposedly solve the bTB problem when all the science clearly says this will not happen is unforgiveable.

The Wildlife Trusts believe this problem needs to be solved to help both farmers and badgers but shooting badgers will make things worse for farmers through the perturbation effect where normally stable groups will break down and badgers will be dislocated and move around, spreading the disease. That is why we are working on the ground to vaccinate badgers and are urging more stringent biosecurity measures on farms to minimise badger interactions with cattle and to ensure that a cattle vaccine is deployed as quickly as possible.

I well remember watching badger cubs running over my feet whilst watching a sett in Derbyshire with my girlfriend (now my wife) some 30 years ago. What an amazing experience that was. How long will I and others be able to witness such close encounters with badgers if the cull comes to Derbyshire.

We all have a huge responsibility to do what we can to ensure that our badgers get the protection they deserve. Surely in the 21st century we are able to live side by side with one of the last large wild creatures left in the UK – our truly Ancient Britons.
 

You can help support our badger vaccination programme by donating to our appeal.

Read TimBirch's latest blog entries.

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