A Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has taken the unusual step of wading into the badger cull debate by calling on the Government to halt its plans for badger control measures in his county.
In a written response to Defra’s consultation on proposals for eight new culling zones in England, Derbyshire PCC Hardyal Dhindsa said vaccinating badgers was cheaper than culling and more effective in stemming the spread of bovine TB.
This is despite the recent Brunton paper which showed badger culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset was having a positive impact on driving down the incidence of TB in cattle, Andrew Critchlow, county adviser for the NFU in Derbyshire, said he was ‘surprised’ to see Mr Dhindsa’s comments.
“I am surprised that the commissioner has commented so strongly on what is an animal health issue and I would not have thought that fell under his remit of PCC,” said Mr Critchlow.
“If a cull does take place in Derbyshire it will be part of the Government’s 25 year strategy to control bovine TB.
“We would hope that if it does go ahead, the police would treat it in a fair and even-handed way as they have done in other cull areas, in line with Government policy.”
In his letter, Mr Dhindsa highlighted an area in Edale where the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust had been vaccinating badgers since 2015 with a break in 2016 due to a global shortage of the BCG vaccine.
“Derbyshire is at the forefront of a vaccination programme to limit the spread of this disease and there are no grounds, either scientifically or economically, to cull badgers,” said Mr Dhindsa.
“Badgers are a protected species under the 1992 Badger Protection Act and evidence shows that shooting badgers is not a viable solution to the spread of bovine TB. If this is the case, then it does not make sense to pursue an expensive culling programme at the cost of the taxpayer.
“I am urging the Government to reconsider its position and to continue to invest in the vaccination programme in this county and beyond to protect what remains a threatened species for future generations.”
He said vaccinating a badger cost about £80, ‘which is far less than the reported £6,000 it costs to shoot one’.
However, costs of both methods are thought to be similar when taking into account training of volunteers and contractors and the deployment of the schemes.
Mr Critchlow said: “Once a badger has been caught and vaccinated it has to be vaccinated repeatedly each year after to maintain the claimed 75 per cent reduction in bTB incidence.
“Defra’s policy to cull badgers is about reducing the population density to a more natural level and in doing so, reducing the potential for disease spread."
Mr Dhindsa’s comments echoed those of Shadow Farming Minister David Drew who was slapped down at last month’s NFU Conference for suggesting a vaccination policy alone could solve Britain’s bTB problem.
Mr Dhindsa is also a member of the Labour party and his comments are in line with Labour’s manifesto pledge to end the badger cull if it came to power.
NFU president Minette Batters previously told Farmers Guardian that while the badger cull debate continued to be ‘deeply politicised’ it was the country’s farmers - grappling with the disease daily - who were stuck in the middle.
You can read the commissioner’s full statement on the PCC website here.