The issue which elicits the most emails is badger culling and Bovine TB. I appreciate that Bovine TB is a scourge on our countryside that needs to be eradicated, but I oppose culling because I believe it is bad for wildlife. I am aware that organisations, such as the RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts, have longstanding campaigns on this issue and that a parliamentary petition calling for an end to badger culling has received over 30,000 signatures. This clearly shows the strength of feeling on this issue.
The previous Labour Government carried out a ten-year randomised badger culling trial which concluded that culling will not work to achieve a lasting reduction in Bovine TB and actually risks making things worse, particularly for farmers in neighbouring areas. Despite this, during the last Parliament, the Coalition Government carried out badger culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset from August 2013. In autumn 2015, the current Government extended the cull to a new area in Dorset and, as you will be aware, the Government has recently confirmed that seven new culling areas will be permitted in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, in addition to the existing areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset. Culling in these new areas will be carried out over four years between 1 June and 31 January each year. The Government is also consulting on further cattle measures, including on more sensitive tests for TB-affected herds in the High Risk Area and on introducing further measures for controlling TB in non-bovine animals.
The Independent Expert Panel (IEP), appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the controlled shooting during the first year of the badger culls, concluded that the culls had failed on both the effectiveness and humaneness tests. The IEP was not asked to oversee subsequent years of the culls and so they have continued without monitoring or evaluation. A Freedom of Information request in 2015 revealed that the total cost of the pilot badger culls from 2013 up to that point, including money spent on policing, had been £16.78 million. This equates to £6,775 per badger killed. The Government estimates that the new cull will cost around £1.16 million per new area, but has said there is "considerable uncertainty" over the potential costs for policing and other issues.
The Government has frequently failed to meet its deadlines and targets and I believe it is clear that the Government has already wasted millions of pounds on a badger cull which is unscientific, inhumane and ineffective. At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto that included a commitment to end the ineffective and cruel badger cull. I believe the current Government has completely disregarded the evidence and is going ahead with another unscientific cull with no rigorous monitoring or evaluation. I believe we need an alternative, science-led approach that puts evidence at the heart of policy-making. It is time for long term solutions to combat Bovine TB and for the Government to prioritise a vaccine, together with improved cattle management, as the right way to manage TB.
I will continue to press the Government to abandon its ineffective and cruel policy of culling badgers.