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Britain's favourite cuddly mammal, and why some farmers want them killed

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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 cattle.

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 investigated thoroughly.

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.

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