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It is not good policy, just cheap politics

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Guardian - Friday July 14, 2000

by Geoffrey Gibbs

The two men looked nervous and uneasy. Dressed in combat style clothes and carrying a shovel they came down the steep hillside to the Land Rover parked in the narrow Cornish lane . They had just finished digging in badger traps amid the blackthorn and brambles of a field. The traps were part of the controversial government experiment to establish the source of TB in cattle.

The cull has provoked strong feelings in the area, with protesters claiming that hundreds of traps have been destroyed since the West Penwith experiment began while at least one farmer in the area has changed his mind about taking part in the trials. Simon Cargeeg, 47, who farms 180 acres at Botallack, said that although no threats had been made, the presence of around 30 demonstrators outside the farm was intimidating.

"They seemed pretty intent on not letting this happen and I don't need the aggro. I have a young family and I suppose I felt intimidated by the presence of a large number of very angry people." Police said protesters' claims about the number of traps destroyed were probably correct. But they had so far received only a handful of complaints about theft or criminal damage to Ministry of Agriculture property.

West Penwith farmers have been divided about the cull. Some private landowners have refused to allow traps to be laid on their land and more than half of National Trust tenant farmers in the neighbourhood are said to have declined to take part.

The artist Kurt Jackson, who has a smallholding near St Just, is among those who have refused. "It's partly a moral thing," he said. "Thousands of badgers are killed on the road every year so why can't they be examined to test for the incidence of TB?" Despite the reservations of some farmers, the National Farmers' Union is keen to see a speeding up of the trials because of concern about the continued rise of TB in cattle. Cornwall, it says, has a greater problem with the disease than any other county.

Robert Knowles, chairman of the Cornwall NFU, who farms 350 acres, is among those in favour of the trial. Although his own dairy herd of 170 cattle shows no sign of TB he knows of neighbouring farmers who are under restriction and unable to move cattle off their farms because they have been diagnosed with the disease. "If we are going to prove whether badgers give TB to cattle an experiment like this has got to be done."

John Maule, 43, who runs a 20 acre organic smallholding at Leswidden, near St Just, disagrees. He has refused to allow the cull on his land. "We have never had TB in our cattle which is part of my worry. If you have not got TB you have probably got a healthy population of badgers because they are territorial and keep out the infected ones. "If you kill all the healthy badgers the sett will become repopulated, usually by unhealthy ones that have been kicked out from other setts." "My other gripe is that it is just cheap politics. What happens if they find out that badgers do cause bovine TB? Is the next step to kill every badger in the country? That is not going to be politically acceptable. "They should develop a vaccine for TB in cows and look at the welfare conditions in which they are kept because very few organic farmers get TB in their cattle and they are more stringent on welfare."

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