A decision by the National Trust (NT) not to allow badger culling on its land could be undermining the Government’s 25 year bovine TB strategy and the work being done by farmers and wider industry to control the disease.
Somerset livestock farmer James Small told the NFU Conference farmers and NT tenants in the South West were frustrated by the blanket policy, which could see infected wildlife spread bTB further afield.
He said: “Secretary of State, as you are aware farmers are playing a vital role in eradicating TB across the high risk areas and we are grateful for your ongoing support with this policy.
“But with farmers and Government playing their part in starting to eradicate this insidious disease, is it acceptable for landowners such as the National Trust to preclude their tenants from taking part to protect their own businesses and impacting on the overall success of the policy?
“There is a real risk that infected wildlife will now leave these areas and cause TB breakdowns in areas that are working hard to eradicate the disease."
Mr Gove told Mr Small he would ’investigate’ the issue.
"The National Trust is one of the UK’s most significant landowners and its farm tenants are integral to its work," he told delegates in Birmingham.
"I will investigate closely because it is absolutely vital that the time, energy and expense that has gone in to ensuring we have an effective culling regime... we need to make sure it works properly.
"The heartbreak that occurs for any farmer when they find they face infection and the loss and the costs are huge and that means there is a responsibility on everyone to do all we can to fight this disease."
NT previously said it did not believe badger culling was the ‘right approach’ to managing bTB.
Instead, it was working with partners on badger vaccination programmes, including a project currently underway in Derbyshire.
A statement on its website said culling in England had shown ‘no conclusive evidence’ of its effectiveness in tackling bTB.
Mr Gove highlighted the recent Charles Godfray review which said culling reduced herd breakdowns by about 15 per cent, adding Defra was ‘committed’ to all areas of its 25 year strategy, including badger culling.
NFU president Minette Batters highlighted the Lucy Brunton report which showed culling in Gloucestershire had led to a 58 per cent reduction in the number of herd breakdowns after two years.
The study also showed a 21 per cent drop in TB in herds in Somerset, and found all 19 licensed intensive badger control operations achieved the badger population reductions needed to get on top of the disease.