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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 June 2007, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Brock in the dock...
Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Political Editor
BBC South West

Who could believe that such a "cuddly" animal could raise such concerns

The thorny question of badgers, TB and culling is never far from farming headlines and in the South West, we meet one farmer who is less than enchanted with the way Defra are handling the issue...

The publication, by Defra, of the report into cattle, badgers and TB is almost certain to inflame the argument about whether or not to cull the badgers.

For nine years, Defra's Independent Study Group of scientists has been researching a scientific basis for the government's policy on bovine TB, while the disease has spread relentlessly up and down the country.

Particular damage has been done to beef and dairy herds in the South West.

One of them is Gordon Tully's herd of Pedigree South Devon cattle, which is appropriately based near Brixham, in South Devon.

The blood line stretches back to the foundation of the herd by his father in 1941.

Gordon Tully
The man who came said it had to be badgers
Gordon Tully

In 2004, one of the cows tested positive for TB and the effects were devastating.

"We were closed down for six months and it put everything in jeopardy," says Gordon as he inspects the distinctive ruddy-brown cattle in a rain-soaked field.

"I felt very bad about it, as if the herd had been devalued through no fault of my own. The man who came said it had to be badgers."

Winning ways end

All livestock are as "one of the family"

Gordon has won more trophies than he can remember, at Smithfield and the Royal, as well as the annual county shows.

But not this year at Westpoint in Devon.

Gordon was not allowed to show.

A few months ago, a pedigree champion cow, in calf to a champion bull, was flagged up positive in the annual TB test.

It was devastating enough that she had to be slaughtered.

Business was suspended again, followed by more agony when further tests showed she was actually negative.

Gordon complains that the Ministry bureaucracy not only took too long to sort out the tests and tell him what was going on, but the fixed compensation took no account of the superior prospects of such a champion beast.

Science rules

Ben Bradshaw and Gordon Tully
Bradshaw: Science must rule the decisions

So when the Minister, Ben Bradshaw, made an official visit to the Devon County Show, Gordon was waiting.

The Minister did not object to Gordon's complaints - he must be used to them from farmers across the region.

But he made it clear that the ISG report would determine the future and that although culling of badgers had not been ruled out, he would be guided by the science.

It is that solid science that the group chairman, Professor John Bourne, says will underpin the report and validate its conclusions.

It is also the science that leads badger enthusiasts to reject the idea of a renewed cull.

Secret sanctuary

Pauline Kidner
You're looking at blanket killing which would be totally impossible
Pauline Kidner

At Highbridge in Somerset, Pauline Kidner runs a wildlife refuge called Secret World.

Around 50 badger cubs a year are brought here for rehabilitation and eventual release into the wild, as long as they are clear of TB.

Pauline and her husband used to run a dairy herd and suffered a TB outbreak.

She accepts the part that badgers play in transmitting TB, but says it is a two-way process.

Like many on the badger side of the argument, she says that cattle to cattle transmission is far more important and efforts should be made to control that before killing off the badger, just because he could be implicated.

Brave decision

The great discussion comes over the type of culling that could be implemented.

The scientific trials that have been carried out for the ISG, show that a localised cull can be very effective at single farm level.

However, some badgers escape and they spread the disease to neighbouring farms.

Pauline's badgers are given a clean bill of health before release

The only way to overcome this is to have a cull over a much bigger area, taking out large numbers of badgers and minimising the exodus over the boundary.

But that would cause a financial crisis, says Pauline.

"You're looking at blanket killing which would be totally impossible. It would be very expensive and even if you killed as many as you could, you'd still leave a native population that would soon bring the bovine TB problem back to where it is."

The Minister may say he has not ruled out culling badgers, but Defra is already spending more than 90m a year trying to deal with bovine TB.

With the Treasury breathing down every departmental neck to contain budgets, it is not difficult to see that attempting renewed culling would not only generate a massive public reaction, but more importantly might open a small financial black hole if the culling did not work.

As Sir Humphrey might have said: "A very brave decision, Minister."

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