Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Badger cull provokes fresh protests
The cull will test the link between badgers and TB in cows
A controversial government badger cull is about to enter its second phase despite protests from animal welfare groups.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) organised the cull in an attempt to establish if there is a link between badgers and the devastating cattle disease, bovine tuberculosis (TB).
Maff estimates between 5,000 and 10,000 badgers will be culled during the five-year operation, while conservation groups like the Wildlife Trusts put the figure as high as 20,000.
It said that considerations of public health, animal welfare and farmers' livelihood outweighed objections to the killing.
But doubts have been expressed over whether or not the £25m project will be able to prove a connection between badgers and TB.
A MAFF spokesman said: "We may find out with this trial that actually there is no link."
'Unscientific and cruel'
He continued: "But we think we can come up with a strategy and policy with this project that will be best suited for both the cattle and the badger."
Campaigners against the cull argue that it is an "unscientific" and "cruel" waste of money that could be better spent on developing a vaccine, promoting better animal husbandry techniques and compensation for farmers.
Director General of the Wildlife Trusts, Dr Simon Lyster, said: "The Wildlife Trusts accept that an outbreak of TB in a cattle herd can be catastrophic for any farmer.
"However, the proposed experimental cull will not work and will result in the pointless death of a lot of badgers."
The culls started last December and are due to resume shortly in two of 10 ministry-identified "hotspots" in the UK - east Cornwall and east Herefordshire.
But the badger hunters' efforts have been hindered by the refusal of some nature reserves to allow the cull to take place on their land, a decision that was criticised by the select committee.
Dr Lyster said: "I am amazed. What on earth does the committee think nature reserves are for?"
"They are safe havens for wildlife, and it would be gross hypocrisy for us to acquire land as a nature reserve and then allow badgers to be killed as part of an experiment which we think is misguided anyway."
Up to 600 people have already attended protests in an attempt to halt culls in Devon.
Dr Elaine King, conservation officer for the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG), said: "More than 80% of research expenditure on bovine TB is being spent on badger culling and badger-related issues."
The NFBG helped organised a 35,000-signature petition protesting the cull which was recently handed in to Downing Street.
"This petition confirms that public opinion does not support this grotesque waste of taxpayers money," Dr King said.
Concerns have also been raised about the method with which the animals have been killed.
BBC footage for a recent documetary has been used by conservation groups to suggest that the Maff operatives carrying out the cull have been causing undue suffering to some badgers.
Environmental groups estimate there are approximately 195,000 badgers in England alone.