Death by bullet and chocolate

Jan Rowe and Brian May
Jan Rowe, one of the leaders of the full, says he has been targeted by actives. Brian May, right is leading protests

Their sweet tooth spells doom for badgers as farmers prepare for a cull. But Brock is not without friends, writes Simon Trump.

AN ARMY of 1,000 marksmen carrying rifles, 46-page rule books and pots of Nutella is preparing to begin a cull of badgers – and to take on the growing group of volunteers who have sworn to protect the creatures.

The cull, expected to start before the middle of next month, is likely to shatter the tranquility of 86,000 acres of west Gloucestershire, the first area in which a licence to shoot badgers has been granted.

On one side are the farmers, who blame the badgers for the spread of bovine tuberculosis that results in the slaughter of 26,000 cattle a year – and the hired guns who will do the killing. One the other side are the protesters, who insist that the culling policy is senseless slaughter based on flawed science. In the middle are the police, faced with the logistic nightmare of trying to maintain order in open countryside at night.

The animosity was epitomised this weekend by the words of one marksman. Fearful of reprisals, he spoke on consideration of anonymity. “We take great objection to the suggestion we are crazed psychopaths with an uncontrollable blood lust charging around taking potshots at anything,” he said “We fully understand the science behind the cull and the need for it. We are professionals and will apply the same skills to this task as we do to any other means of animal control through shooting.”

Chocolate sauce, a scattering of peanuts and Nutella, a chocolate and hazelnut spread, will be used as bait by the marksmen to lure out the 3,000 badgers that, it is estimated will be killed.

Protesters, however, will seek to disrupt farmers’ plans with food parcels delivered during the day in an attempt to remove the need for badgers to leave their sets at night and wander into the guns’ sights.

According to Stop the Cull, a pressure group, as many as 50 protesters a night will take to the fields and hedgerows, intent on unearthing any breaches of the strict rules surrounding the cull. “We will be looking out for obvious signs of night-time activity, such as shots where silencers are not used, lights and vehicle or human moments,” a spokesman said. “We will be doing our very best to make it as difficult as possible for the cull to continue.”

The shooting has yet to start but the PR war is well under way. Brian May, guitarist in the rock band Queen, is the face of the anti-cull lobby. His organisation, Team Badger, has launched a petition with the target of attracting 100,000 names, enough to secure a debate at Westminster. There are also calls for a boycott of milk from cull areas, where most of the cows affected by bovine TB are from dairy herds. May has pledged not to drink milk once the shooting starts unless it is from a farm “that treats animals humanely”.

Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, has also called on tourists to boycott Gloucestershire and west Somerset, where a second pilot is due to be launched, because he argues, farms there will be “soaked in badgers’ blood”.

Bovine TB is estimated to cost each affected farmer an average of £10,000 and the tax-payer £100m in compensation annually.

The cull is the first in which badgers will be shot in the open, rather than trapped and then destroyed. If it is proved to be a safe, humane and efficient way of reducing the population, it will be extended to the rest of the country.

May and the protesters argue that vaccination is the only way to tackle the problem of bovine TB and insist that culling will only make it worse by forcing sick badgers to move away, spreading the disease.

With the battle lines firmly drawn, 1,000 marksmen have taken tests and received detailed tuition in badger behaviour so that they can have their firearms licences amended by police to allow them to shoot badgers. The 46-page shooting guidance policy document issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) lays out exactly how and from where shots can be taken. Its language is notably devoid of any of the emotion that the cull has inspired. A provisional licence was last week issued to GlosCon, the company behind the cull in Gloucestershire. A full licence will follow once financial conditions are met.

Lists of approved personnel had to be provided to Natural England, the government’s adviser on the environment, and police must be told in advance of proposed dates, times and locations of culls.

Jan Rowe, one of the nominal directors of GlosCon and the county spokesman for the National Farmers Union, claims that he and his wife have been subjected to a cyberattack last week and her mobile phone number was posted on the internet. Details of other farmers helping with the cull have also been posted. “The intention of the anti-cull lobby is to bog med own in nonsense from dawn to dust through phone calls, texts and email. They have failed. The police have already been involved in two or three more serious incidents and they have been fantastic,” he said.

It is unlikely to be the police’s last involvement. Blank witness statements have been issued to about 300 farmers signed to the cull in anticipation of a need for police to deal with trespassers.

If you want your breakfast pinta, Brock must die,
Charles Clover, page 21.

Source: SUNDAY TIMES  23 September 2012