5 September 2013 By Alistair Driver
THE National Trust has insisted a vote by its members on whether to allow badger culling on its land will not necessarily be binding. At its AGM next month, the Trust’s members will vote on a resolution to vaccinate badgers on its land as an alternative to culling them.
The Trust is one of England’s biggest landowners and its support will be vital, if the badger cull is rolled out to new areas from 2014 onwards, following successful pilots this year.
In a statement on its website, the Trust says it would ‘not stand in the way of proposed pilot badger culls providing they’re carried out in scientifically sound and humane ways’. However, it expresses concern over whether, even if the current pilot culls are successful, it will be possible to repeat the criteria for success over much larger areas of bTB hotspots.
The Trust said it was currently funding a pilot programme to test the practicality of vaccinating badgers on its Killerton Estate, in Devon, to establish whether vaccination represents a viable alternative.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, Patrick Begg, the Trust’s rural enterprise director, said: “It is a very, very contentious issue and we are very concerned that we get our position absolutely right. On the basis if that scientific evidence (the Randomised Badger Culling Trial) we can’t rule out culling as one of the tools in the toolbox but it has to be done, if it is to be done, alongside a number of other measures and the one we think has got the best long term future is vaccination, both of cattle and badgers.”
He insisted it was ‘too early to say’ whether the Trust would ban culling on its farm tenants’ land if its members voted that way.
“AGM resolutions are a very influential litmus test of membership opinion but they are not under our governance strictly binding,” he said. “We have had a number of debates and resolutions in the past where we have listened to what our members decide but in the end have not adopted what they suggest for all sort of reasons so it isn’t a binding if the result goes one particular way.”
He added that the Trust would ‘abrogating responsibility’ if it did not make the decision on behalf of its tenants but stressed that ‘cares deeply’ about both its wildlife and the wellbeing of its farmers. He said the Trust ‘certainly prefers’ vaccination but at the moment did not have enough scientific evidence about either culling or vaccination to make a definitive decision. “At the moment we don’t know the full story, so it’s too early to say,” he said.