Warwickshire Farmer: Brock, stock and two smoking barrels

PUBLISHED: 01:16 23 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:02 20 February 2013

Warwickshire Farmer: Brock, stock and two smoking barrels

Warwickshire Farmer: Brock, stock and two smoking barrels

ohn Brigg examines the cause of an 'unnecessarily emotive' row over Britain's largest predator, the badger.

John Brigg examines the cause of an unnecessarily emotive row over Britains largest predator, the badger.

With advancing years comes increasing scepticism and cynicism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the whole field of scientific proof which is wheeled out as either an excuse or justification for almost all official actions or, more frequently, inaction.

In the last twenty years the farming industry has been rocked by outbreaks of three major animal diseases. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB), all of which have been exacerbated by acceptance of, and reliance on, scientific advice which varied from the impractical to the almost fraudulent.

Some of the, as yet unproven, theories of the possibility of the transmission of BSE to man in the shape of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), while overlooking the occurrence in lifelong vegetarians, was seen as probably more to do with unlocking further lucrative research funding than actual science.

With the disastrous FMD outbreak in 2001 came the strong feeling in the livestock farming community that political expediency of a Government desperately needing to get the outbreak cleaned up and ended in order to call a General Election, over rode the methodical approach of the State Veterinary Service.

It seemed inexplicable at the time to replace the Chief Veterinary Officer with a mathematician from Imperial College. Imperial College, which is an institution with no expertise in animal husbandry nor veterinary science, used a computer model that had been developed for the control of the spread of sexually transmitted disease in mankind.

Too much has probably already been said and written elsewhere about the spread of BTB and, in particular, the role played by wild badgers. Suffice to say that it is highly regrettable that the debate has polarised into a question of whether a cull of badgers is or is not needed and whether such a cull would or would not be successful in stemming the continuing spread of BTB and the resulting damage to livestock farming businesses.

For a start, the choice of the word cull is unfortunate and unnecessarily emotive carrying, as it does, an implication of complete wipe out of the species, which nobody wants. What is needed is controlled management of the population which would benefit not only ground nesting species of birds and small mammals, but also the health of the badgers themselves. It is pretty obvious that protection of a predator species will naturally have an adverse effect on the prey species.

In South Warwickshire now we hardly ever see either lapwings or hedgehogs which were numerous prior to the Badger Protection Act (1992). However the badger has a unique position, protected by Act of Parliament and supported by a large and vociferous chain of Badger Groups.

When the political make up of the Welsh Assembly changed after the Spring elections, the incoming Rural Affairs minister put the previous administrations badger control scheme on hold. This had survived legal challenges and he had himself supported it in the vote in the assembly but he still felt he had to hold it up and wait for yet more scientific research.

John Brigg farms at Lighthorne, Warwickshire

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