Badgers really are having their moment in the spotlight, aren’t they? Ever since the government decided that the bovine TB epidemic was so serious that something drastic had to be done, Mr Brock has been the recipient of a fantastic PR campaign by the animal-rights lobby. Badgers have been painted as sweet, fluffy, bumbling characters – though I’m not sure that most hedgehogs would recognise that description.
As Charles Moore writes in his Notes this week:
‘Badgers, because protected, have grown bolder, so I have had more chance to study them… They are more hairy than fluffy, and their colouring is dirtier than people think. They are ungainly, verminous, and very destructive.’
And as Charles goes on to say:
‘I don’t know where the fluffy, pretty stuff came in: I suppose when people first ceased to know them at first hand. Of course, one must not criticise badgers for their habits: they are, by nature, what they are. But honesty about the natural world is needed, and hard to come by.’
Of course, their colouring does make them fairly photogenic, as the BBC discovered when they chose an image of a badger as the cover of a wildlife calendar in 2013. But since when were environmental or culling decisions made on the basis of which animal looks the cutest?
Just last week, a study published in Nature magazine stated that one of the only things that could control the spread of bovine TB was the culling of whole herds of cattle. Defra and farms minister George Eustice (who worked on his family’s farm for 9 years prior to going into politics) have both dismissed the report, mainly because it excludes specific badger-to-cattle infection due to a lack of data. But, although they admit it is a ‘draconian’ idea, the report states that ‘this might be an acceptable cost if one is prepared to take a sufficiently long term view’.
In the same week as this study was published, the cuts that have affected milk prices in recent weeks continued. Supermarkets including Morrisons, Asda, Lidl and Londis have all been criticised for paying less that 30p per litre of milk, which is the amount that farmers’ unions say that producers can survive on.
Unions are, by definition, going to be biased. That’s part of their job. But, even bearing that in mind, it’s hard to argue that it’s a good time to be a dairy farmer in the UK. Talk of culling whole herds of cattle is enough to make the toughest dairy farmer shudder. As Eustice himself said: ‘What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country’.