GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood

GOB 43 – Weasels Take Over the Wild Wood

The minister squirmed away from the BBC interrogator. The question, which he failed to answer three times, was ‘…how big a reduction in Bovine TB is going to show that the badger cull has been a success?’

Instead of answering this, he said how culling ring-tailed possums in New Zealand was successful in reducing TB there, as had culling water buffalo in northern Australia – failing to point out was that both of these are invasive species… not native to their respective countries like the badger is in the UK. He also never mentioned that bovine TB had ‘jumped’ to fallow deer in New Zealand. What will be the next target if TB jumps to another species here?

Earlier in the interview he mentioned that a full 16% reduction in Bovine TB had been recorded when infected wild animals had been culled. In other words the reduction is marginal.

He then tried to pluck at listeners’ heart strings by reminding us that infected cattle have to be slaughtered just as they had been in their tens of thousands during the last outbreak foot & mouth disease. He related how many farmers had suffered.

I’m not sure exactly when my blood went above 100ºC, but my primary reaction was consternation. Clearly right thinking people should weep over cows while dismissing badger lives as inconsequential. The delicate sensitivities of farmers must be respected, but the anger, frustration and sorrow of wildlife lovers everywhere is just not relevant.

The intervening variable is, of course, money. Government pays compensation, farmers lose money, trade suffers as our beef cannot be exported.

The same government has claimed that the risk of catching the illness from eating infected meat is ‘extremely low’ – just as well as it is the practice of DEFRA to sell on the meat from TB infected cattle, that are slaughtered by Government directive, to catering firms, processors or supermarkets, without providing any warning labels. Presumably to re-coup the ‘up to £1,700’ per animal compensation paid to farmers.

Moreover, when asked about what monetary value was put on the badgers he ducked the question and instead revealed that he was one of the few people who had kept badgers as pets as a child. Clearly he is still firmly stuck in Victorian morality where the ONLY value assigned to anything in the wild world is its real or potential use to humans.

What about the pets of those of us who are not estate owning millionaire tory politicians? Well, cats can pass on bovine tuberculosis to their owners, according to vets. They may catch the disease during their exploration of badger setts, but they can also pick up bovine TB directly from cattle or infected milk.

Cats are given special privileges by most of their owners so there are many millions that, uniquely among pets, are allowed to roam at will.

I doubt that ANY politician would dare suggest control, let alone culls of domestic pets, even if they were proven vectors. Shame really as that would stop the cats slaughtering millions of songbirds, small mammals and our tiny population of reptiles.

Tree-huggers, new-age travellers and vegetarian feminist nut cases object to the slaughter of wild animals. Sensible farmers, financiers and other capitalists see the need… or at least that is what a press largely owned by the friends of the privileged rich and powerful, would have us believe.

I may not wear purple tie-dyed smocks or bedeck myself with blond dreadlocks, beads and crystals, but I’d rather hug a tree than a tory minister. Some of the most sensible, and sensitive people I know are vegetarian feminists and we can all agree on one thing at least. The badger cull is fundamentally wrong.

There is plenty of evidence to show that if, for example, you keep the land in good heart by traditional or organic farming, and keep livestock in a traditional way you are likely to have healthy wild animals on your land. If those animals are slaughtered the vacuum created will be filled by wild critters from over the hill. If, over the hill farm animals are tight-penned, neglected and factory farmed the wild critter incomers may well be infected!

But the cull is not just wrong-headed in this practical way; it is also a triumph of narrow economics. Looking after the countryside for wild animals and plants, even in strictly financial terms adds up. If we see it merely as a repository of food or fuel we are rushing headlong over the cliffs like the over-populated lemmings we seem to want to emulate. Sure, our largely urban population wants good, inexpensive food, but they also want many millions of leisure opportunities afforded by the countryside. They want to walk, fish, birdwatch and otherwise enjoy nature. If you undertake a cost-benefit analysis it will quickly become clear that this financial worth is far greater than the current cost of slaughtered cattle.

What is more, our attitude to bacteria is plain wrong. Our forebears used to ‘eat a peck of dirt’ and it kept them healthy. If we stop exposing ourselves to the microscopic agents all around us we just create a generation of kids with allergies

There is, it seems, a chill wind blowing through the willows of Albion. Mole can be trapped and skinned to make gamekeeper’s trousers. Ratty barely hangs on in the face of invading mink and even Mr Toad has to be helped across our over busy roads. Mr Otter may be on the up, but for how long will his fish-eating habit be tolerated by game fishermen and salmon farmers? As for old Mr Badger it seems he is as poor as a church mouse, and has no value… or at least no monetary value in the narrow eyes of government or the weasel words of its ministers.

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