A conservation group and the Ulster Farmers’ Union are backing an alternative to a major badger cull, as England begins to kill 5,000 of the animals in a bid to tackle rising tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.
The controversial cull finally got under way in England yesterday in the face of angry demonstrations. Farmers and the government there insist that culling of badgers, which can spread TB to cattle, is needed to stop spiralling rates of the disease in herds. They believe a major cull in the Republic of Ireland was very effective in reducing the disease.
But yesterday Mike Rendle, coordinator of the Northern Ireland Badger Group, told the News Letter that he believed the “compromise” approach being taken in Ulster was better.
“In Northern Ireland we have reached a compromise where all healthy animals will be vaccinated and all infected ones will be humanely euthanased,” he said.
A pilot project is being run by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute over 400 sq km round Banbridge, Rathfriland, Castlewellan, Slieve Croob, Seaforde and Dundrum. The animals are captured in cages for testing.
“We expect very few badgers to be found to be infected,” he added. “We are absolutely behind this approach.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Harry Sinclair said that TB levels in Northern Ireland herds had risen from four per cent to seven per cent in recent years.
“This is costing the taxpayer £10-15m per year in testing and compensation,” he said.
“We have been campaigning for something to be done to control the disease in the wildlife population. We believe our approach is more humane than in England; uninfected animals are released into the wild again. We would like to see the pilot rolled out across Northern Ireland.”
However, the chair of the Stormont Agriculture Committee, the DUP’s Paul Frew, said the Department of Agriculture’s approach here has often been to call for further research and study. “Only after sustained pressure by the Agriculture Committee did the minister finally announce some progress towards tackling the disease, but the progress on taking this forward is very slow,” he added.
“We are still waiting for the department’s approach to produce results with the disease.
“Whilst this kind of slow progress continues then we will still spend tens of millions of pounds simply dealing with the effects of this disease rather than than putting our focus on its eradication.”
In England licences have been given for two pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset but opponents say culling will have only a small effect.
See Morning View, page 18