The UK badger is a protected species and has been since the introduction of the Badger Act in 1992. It is one of our last remaining indigenous large mammal species, with a social structure that is apparently unique to this country. However, some want these animals culled because they (like other mammals) can carry bovine TB. But, this is not just an issue over badgers. The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has issued itself such wide ranging and draconinan powers that the whole concept of human rights and privacy is being threatened.
In north Pembrokeshire preparations were started in the summer of 2010 for a compulsory cull of badgers as part of an ongoing programme in an effort to achieve what is probably an impossible task – to eradicate bovine TB. The plan is clear, over a five-year period, badgers from a defined area will be caged and shot. At this stage it is a pilot scheme in Pembrokeshire only. Culls are planned parts of England too but the proposal is that these will be farmer led culls and at the discretion of the landowner.
Many opposed to the cull argue that the 10-year, £50 million pound, publicly funded study, by the Independent Scientific Group on TB, concluded that culling badgers has limited effects on reducing bTB and can even spread the disease in adjoining areas. This study involved killing around 11,000 badgers, the vast majority of which were healthy. Despite this evidence WAG pressed ahead, spurred on by the majority of its assembly members and some farmers who are at their wit’s end following persistent herd breakdowns, testing and consequential restrictions. In 2009 WAG introduced its TB Eradication (Wales) Order, which gave it unprecedented powers, including ones giving it draconian rights of access to all land in order to survey sets, trap and shoot badgers. WAG argued that this measure would reduce bovine TB in cattle by 6-9% (and that will apparently be for only two years following the five years duration of the cull). The Badger Trust challenged the Order by way of a judicial review. This tested the legality of the process, not the appropriateness of the decision to cull. The Judge, Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, concluded that WAG did have discretionary powers to carry out the cull, but noted that it was for the Ministers, rather than the court, to undertake a balancing exercise between the costs and benefits of the proposed cull. The Badger Trust appealed against this judgement and won so in 2010 the cull was postponed.
In March 2011 WAG introduced a new Order, which again ignored the science and sought to cull the badgers, despite the fact that culling has been shown not to be cost effective . The unprecedented public opposition to the cull was completely ignored too by WAG and the Order was confirmed. Over 13000 responses were received to the official consultation exercise by WAG and only around 2000 were for the cull. No consideration was given to any of the well reasoned arguments from those opposed to the Order. The new Order has no time limit for the area concerned and blights the land involved, the intensive action area, indefinitely. It is expected that legal challenges will be made by the Badger Trust and local land owners.
Throughout there has been a lot of public opposition to badger culling and landowners in the Pembrokeshire area, targeted for the trial cull, set up a group called Pembrokeshire Against the Cul (PAC) to peacefully protest and try and change the minds of the politicians and policy makers as they believe that vaccination of badgers is a better option than slaughter. In previous culls people have been able to opt out but the Pembrokeshire cull is compulsory, even on nature reserves and protected wildlife habitat areas. However, since the original Order was made these people have been subjected to intolerable pressure from WAG, with a heavy-handed approach from officials and the police, acting under instructions from WAG. Separate incidents on the same day in May 2010 raised grave concerns regarding WAG’s use of its new legal powers.
Several police vehicles, numerous police officers, WAG officials and surveyors, again wearing black balaclavas to conceal their identities, arrived at the Brithdir low impact community at Cilgwyn. The community members tried in vain to reason with the officers. Two were arrested for obstruction, but later released without charge.One Pembrokeshire resident, Felicia Ruperti, said, of the recent incident at Cilgwyn: “I felt very intimidated by the amount of police here today. We have been peaceful from the start and have not threatened anyone”. Police were also said to be stopping motorists nearby and searching them under anti-terrorist legislation.
On the same day Dr Gavin Harper (just an ordinary person; not a thug or an extremist) was arrested for theft of ID cards when contractors and police in a riot van, arrived, without notice, to undertake a badger set survey on his land. He was later released without charge or any further action when it was learnt that he was merely holding the contractors’ ID cards in order for him to identify them as bona fide contractors! The contractors concerned were wearing balaclavas and there were no names on the ID cards. Interestingly, police representatives had attended a previous PAC meeting and stressed the importance of checking ID cards! There were elderly people at the property and one was described as trembling with shock at the invasion. Gavin made a formal complaint about his arrest and it was not until April 2011 that he received the judgement of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. They upheld his complaint and confirmed he was unlawfully arrested.
Many now feel unable to publicly voice their objections due to the climate of fear and intimidation that currently exists in Pembrokeshire and the outlying areas. Is this just what WAG is aiming for? Is the bovine TB policy causing fear and intimidation in the area defined as the intensive action area (parts of Pembrokeshire and outlying areas)? Will landowners in this area soon be seeing masked contractors turn up at any time during the day or night, with rifles, to set/check traps and shoot all captured badgers.? Are the legal, human rights, public security and safety issues being ignored?
Why the balaclava helmets? Are these surveyors ashamed of what they are doing? According to reports on the internet the company undertaking the surveying work was said to be Thomson Ecology. It claims to be the UK’s leading ecological consultant and one of their core values is scientific integrity – there is currently much doubt among the scientific community regarding the benefits of culling.
Why would the surveyors wish to hide their identities. A statement from WAG’s Minister of Rural Affairs said the contractors felt personally intimidated and did not like being filmed. What about the landowners? What would have been the reaction if they had worn such headgear? We understood the contractors are not even local. Given the huge budget for the cull, presumably they are also being paid well for what they are doing. If a Mail Online article it claims a Pembrokeshire man was offered £150,000 a year for up to five years to kill and dispose of badgers!
It is the inflexible and zero tolerance approach adopted by WAG, and laid down by this body in law, which raises significant concerns regarding the future for us all (and for our wildlife). WAG would now appear to be using its new legal powers to stifle debate, prevent opposition and discourage peaceful protest.
Company silent on badger cull amid web warnings: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2010/05/21/company-silent-on-badger-cull-amid-web-warnings-91466-26489995/