5,000 Somerset and Gloucestershire badgers will be killed in controlled shootings over the next six weeks. The cull is part of a regional effort to protect cattle from contracting bovine tuberculosis (TB), which infected badgers can spread. While supporters call it a necessary measure to contain the disease, opponents decry the method as cruel and inhumane.
The National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) polarizing decision was accompanied by a letter to its members, in which NFU president Peter Kendall addressed the excoriating criticism lobbied by activists and organization like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Kendall called the cull “absolutely necessary,” indicating that its benefits on cattle farming sadly outweigh badger welfare. The alternative, he said, would be extensive, annual cattle culls.
"This is an important step not just for cattle farmers but for the whole farming industry,” he wrote. "I know that many of you reading this will have suffered the misery of dealing with TB on farm - some of you for decades - and I hope now you will feel that something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers."
However, opponents continue to express dissent, with activists calling for public interference and protest walks. Speaking to BBC, a Forthampton resident condemned the “extermination of the badger on British soil,” calling the containment measure “utterly unacceptable.” Similarly, The Labour Party’s Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh said the cull was not the answer.
“The government's own figures show it will cost more than it saves and it will spread bovine TB in the short term as the badgers are disturbed and spread infection to neighboring herds,” she said. "We agree with the scientists that it has no meaningful contribution to play in tackling bovine TB."
That said, many farmers affected by the current TB situation stand by NFU’s impending effort. David Barton, a cattle farmer in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said that while he’s sympathetic about wildlife integrity and welfare, the health of his animals comes first. With over 50% of the badger population carrying TB, the problem must be addressed, he said.
"I've lost a third of my herd in the last two years - it's completely devastating," he told reporters. "These are animals I know, they have characters, and I hear people being very passionate about badgers and I can empathize with them but they're not animals they deal with on a day-to-day basis and they have no idea what farmers like myself are going through.”
The NFA’s pilot culls have already begun. Specialized marksmen use high-velocity rifles to shoot badgers after luring them with peanuts and other foods. According to The Independent, the controlled shootings will cost £2,500, or about $3,000, per hectare.