Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s preferred new chair of Natural England has admitted he would lobby Ministers to drop the badger cull.
Environmental campaigner Tony Juniper, who has previously worked for Friends of the Earth and is now president of the Wildlife Trusts, an organisation which has described the badger cull as a ‘dangerous distraction’, was quizzed about his position on the culls by MPs on the Efra Committee during a pre-appointment hearing this week (February 26).
Chair of the committee Neil Parish asked if Mr Juniper would grant cull licences if he became NE chair after reading a tweet he posted in 2014, describing former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, who began the culls, as ‘inhumane and a waste of time’.
Mr Juniper also wrote an article in The Guardian in 2013 where he suggested the badger cull was ‘payback for laws which ended fox hunting with dogs’.
Though he told Mr Parish he would licence the culls if ‘directed by Government policy’, he went on to say he would push for Ministers to look again at the science.
“[Culling] is one of the tools which is being used at the moment, but my view has been as a result of my engagement as president of the Wildlife Trusts, the work we have done there shows vaccination would be more effective,” he said.
“If I arrive as the chair of Natural England, I would look very carefully at the science again and hopefully would be convinced what we have at the moment is rational and based upon the best available evidence.
“Should there be new evidence coming, if there was something to suggest we could do better in being able to control the spread of that disease, I would hope to be able to speak to Ministers about that, but I would not publicly disagree with them.”
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, told Farmers Guardian Mr Juniper’s response to the committee was ‘less than satisfactory and will offer little reassurance to farmers’.
“The Government must ensure the role of chair of Natural England is filled by someone who will deliver its policy, not pursue a personal agenda,” he added.