Britain's favourite cuddly mammal, and why some
farmers want them killed
Guardian - Thursday July 13, 2000
by Derek Brown
1. The Ministry of Agriculture
(MAFF) has released the latest figures on the spread of bovine
tuberculosis, showing a 6% rise over the past year. Many farmers
believe that badgers are responsible for spreading the disease.
2. Wildlife lobbyists point out
that myobacterium bovis, the bug responsible for bovine TB,
affects less than 0.1% of British cattle, compared with 40% before
the second world war. The alleged link with badgers was first
postulated only in the early 1970s.
3. The Ministry is keen to stamp
out bovine TB, not least because all infected cattle must be
slaughtered and their owners compensated at market rates.
4. MAFF and its independent
advisers are working on a five-point programme, including a
detailed study of whether badgers can transmit the disease to
5. The study will involve the
shooting of some 12,500 badgers - about 3% of the estimated
population. Conservation groups like Brockwatch and the National
Federation of Badger Groups say the cull is unscientific,
inhumane, and unnecessary.
6. They also accuse the government
of making a sharp U-turn on its pre-election pledge to stop the
cull, which was recommended in a report by Professor John Krebs at
the end of 1997. MAFF has acknowledged, as recently as May, that
the badger-factor is as yet unproved, but insists that it must be
7. The National Farmers' Union
(NFU) insists that the cull must go on. The NFU is also
keen to pass itself off as a wildlife custodian, but makes no
mention of badgers on its countryside web pages.
8. Badgers and their setts are
protected by law - but not from MAFF. The sadistic 'sport' of
badger baiting has been outlawed since 1835, but a small minority
of perverts still get their kicks from torturing animals. It is
thought that many of the mutilated badgers seen dead on country
verges are put there by the badger baiters to give the impression
that they are road casualties.
9. Bovine TB can be transmitted to
humans, but is extremely rare.
10. Though most people have never
seen a badger, the beast's appeal is universal. Kenneth Grahame
did more than most to spread the notion of the gentle old brock,
in The Wind in the Willows.