0

The Great British Badger Debate

I have a confession to make. For all my pride in living in London, I’m really a countryside kid.

I don’t mean that I grew up grouse-shooting or fox-hunting — my background is nowhere near as privileged as that — but I’m countryside enough to have grown up in East Anglia, to have experienced getting stuck behind a tractor on pretty much every family drive we ever went on; to have seen muntjacs scampering through the woods on a regular basis in my childhood (usually dashing away from the dog that my nan and I would walk in Thetford Forest most weekends) and at least one of my brothers had a friend whose family ran a farm and would invite him to shoot birds of some description at one time or another.

There are plenty of fields full of cows and pigs where I grew up. We took school trips to a local farm and Harvest Festival was a big deal at school each Autumn.

Camping as a teenager

High school camping trip, as a teenager in Norfolk

At that level, the politics and welfare issues of it all fall away to whether or not the area you live in stinks of manure from the fields, or whether or not your school friend will let you feed polos to the horses when you go round there for tea. (Apparently that used to be a thing. I have no idea whether that’s still a thing. I’m not that countryside anymore.)

I suppose the plight of Britain’s badger has felt like a divisive one to delve into for me. Though I never announce it, and have certainly never mentioned it on this blog before, I haven’t eaten meat or dairy for a while now. Living in the City, it hasn’t been that hard to leave behind the immediate awareness of ‘school friends going without if their families weren’t making enough money from the farm’ to throwing myself entirely into supporting animal rights issues and decidedly detaching myself from the root cause of such appalling animal welfare conditions by changing my diet.

So I suppose I understood where author and anti-badger cull campaigner Dominic Dyer (whose background is in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) was coming from when he told his audience at Waterstones book store in Cambridge on Thursday that he ‘is not anti-farmer’.

“I’m angry,” Dominic explained, “I wanted people to know I was angry. I’m not anti-farmer though — I didn’t want to just attack farming. I do point out that the farmers are the victims of this; the supermarket price wars [reducing the cost of milk], the movement of cattle after the foot and mouth outbreak, the spread of TB [bovine tuberculosis], etc.”

dom-and-charlie-moores

Dominic was discussing his book ‘Badgered to Death‘ in a talk with League Against Cruel Sports’ Vice-Chairman Charlie Moores. The book offers a great beginner’s guide to understanding the long history of this delicate and politically divisive subject (culling badgers as a solution to stop the spread of tuberculosis in cattle), delivered clearly, simply and passionately.

Personally, when reading his book; an in-depth exploration of the issues surrounding the spread of bovine TB and the subsequent persecution of Britain’s badgers, I found it increasingly difficult to sympathise with a campaign to slaughter (often inhumanely) Britain’s largest surviving wild carnivore, rather than vaccinate them. Especially when the evidence shows that over 95% of bovine TB infection spreads from cattle to cattle (not from badger to cattle!), and largely due to the intensity at which they are farmed (i.e. the high numbers making up the dairy herds, the limited space they are given, and the fact that they are kept indoors for longer periods of time).

Perhaps the most astonishing piece of take away information from Dominic’s book is that an annual TB testing system for cattle was put in place in Cardiff, supported by tighter movement and biosecurity controls, and a badger vaccination trial; and the result was that the number of cattle slaughtered for TB in Wales has fallen by 45% in the past five years! Today, 94% of cattle in Wales are TB-free!

I cannot understand why; when the solution is already rolled out in Wales, England doesn’t follow the same practice and stop the cull?

kate-badgered-to-death

Badgered to Death is a great introductory insight to the people, press and politics that come into play concerning Britain’s controversial culling of badgers. It feels like a complete and well-rounded view of the motivations behind the badger cull, and — as the author pointed out at the recent talk in Cambridge — it has been written as ‘a quick-moving, easy read; not a scientific journal’. An approach he says he took so that the book could be used to help those that support the anti-cull movement explain how they feel by sharing it with others and handing it over to MPs (apparently Theresa May has already been sent a copy).

The book also explores the media coverage given to the cull; and its significance and influence, as well as the role (or sometimes lack of) that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play in fighting against the culture of culling.

While it is clearly written from a very personal stance (capturing the last three years of Dominic’s life, so he told the audience at Waterstones), this book takes care to point out the differences of position and previous conflicts that might make the author uncomfortable, rather than simply omitting them. Including the public apology he issued to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which was one of the points discussed with Charlie Moores.

badger-talk

For all the years I lived in East Anglia, I never saw a badger. Not even a dead one at the side of the road. I visited the Natural History Museum earlier this month, and took a walk around their mammal collection to have a look at a badger — having had my curiosity piqued after reading Badgered to Death — and I couldn’t even find a stuffed specimen there. I have no idea how a badger scales up, or what shades are present in their fur; but for some reason I feel a natural affiliation to the creature.

It seems I am not alone. I recently entered a pub in Surrey to find the bar scattered with photographs of badgers and an East Surrey Badger Protection Society newsletter on every table. I asked around and discovered that the pub’s backing of the badger was a source of pride for the regulars. How utterly refreshing, that a pub wants to support animals!

surrey-badger-pics

I have a sneaky feeling that a certain supermarket’s Christmas advert, featuring British wildlife such as badgers, foxes and hedgehogs bouncing on a trampoline will also go some way in igniting a national pride in the badger. Well done John Lewis.

John-Lewis-trampoline-ad-1024x580

But for all the celebration, as Chris Packham writes in the foreword of Badgered to Death: “For many reasons we had come to love the badger, to cherish and admire it, to protect and celebrate it and of course many still do. But the reputation of this essential member of the UK’s ecology has been targeted by a smear campaign which has been swallowed by the gullible and fuelled by those with vested interests. You see, in spite of all the science and all the truths that it outlines, the badger has become a scapegoat.”

waterstones-dom-dyer

At the badger talk I attended, Dominic pointed out that the badger’s story is a certainly a very British one. “Britain is quite unique. Nowhere else on earth would you get people going out into fields in the middle of the night to protect an animal you rarely see.”

I asked him how he hoped the book would contribute to the ‘great badger debate’. I want it to inspire normal people to do something was his reply. “We hear the words ‘civic society’ used a lot now. Whatever it is about, animal welfare of something completely different, I want to encourage people to speak out.”

Badgered to Death is available to buy on Amazon now, visit: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Badgered-Death-People-Politics-Badger-x/dp/0993040756

Share this post:
RSS
Facebook1k
Google+32
Twitter2k
YouTube24
YouTube
LinkedIn712
Instagram2k
Soundcloud15
SOCIALICON
0

We unite, we stand and fight!

In the age of information, where choice rules and diversity divides, finding and nurturing connections made over a mutual attitude towards a cause, is something worthy of a blog post – in my humble opinion.

I mentioned in a previous post that this year’s St Albans Film Festival was of particular interest to me, when I found not one, but two festival entries related to the Born Free Foundation.

we unite

The first was Elephant in the Room, a short documentary that I was already familiar with (though nonetheless excited to find entered – and shortlisted – in my local film festival!), but the real surprise of the event was a call to arms, emotionally-charged protest song and music video documenting Born Free patron, and legendary guitarist, Brian May’s fight against the badger cull.

“It’s a salute to the 7,000 participants in the march,” filmmaker Michael Dias tells me.

Michael not only shot and edited the video – a runner up in this year’s film festival – but he also penned the ‘We Unite‘ song; which is performed by his crowd-gathering musician father, Ricky Lopez.

FormatFactory700_7029

The success of Michael’s protest march video (produced and edited at Chiswell Studios) saw him go on to become Brian May’s official videographer for his Save Me charity, while his father, Ricky, joined Brian May on stage at renowned music and wildlife celebration ‘Wildlife Rocks‘ at Guildford Cathedral.

FormatFactory700_7031

Talking to the pair, it’s clear to see the Save Me projects have been a labour of love, and one that fuses their music passions with a desire to publicly support causes that move them.

“We saw the badger cull on TV and wanted to do something,” they explain.

Michael joined the Save the Badger protesters in central London on the 1st June 2013 with camera in hand.

“I’d looked on BrianMay.com and Save Me and noticed there were no videos, so I put some of the footage together in the studio and sent it over.”

The final video was not only retweeted by Queen and May’s official Twitter pages, but it also made its way onto May’s official website.

image

“I used the song from the badger cull animation that went viral in my first compilation reel,” Michael explains, “and he liked it a lot – so I offered to film more, free of charge, just to support the cause and raise awareness of what was going on concerning the controversial cull.”

From there, the idea for ‘We Unite‘ came into fruition.

I was lucky enough to hear a live performance of the song during my interview, and I can’t wait to see what the pair come up with next.

FormatFactory700_7033

…And for good measure — I couldn’t not put May’s viral ‘Save the Badger Badger Badger’ video on here somewhere (Note: it’s where the soundtrack to Chiswell Studios‘ first compilation of march footage came from). 

Share this post:
RSS
Facebook1k
Google+32
Twitter2k
YouTube24
YouTube
LinkedIn712
Instagram2k
Soundcloud15
SOCIALICON
0

Culling Complications

Starting my final year of university has been hard work. Now in week 6, I’m beginning to wonder just where my time back at Hertfordshire is disappearing to, and I’m certainly missing my exchange university in Australia.

Whilst the change in wildlife is obvious (Britain’s countrysides aren’t exactly as ‘wild’ as the bush and scrubland of Shamwari, or as unique as the marsupial-inhabited outbacks of Australia), but that doesn’t mean we don’t have as many animal and conservation related ‘issues’ as elsewhere though. In fact, our reoccurring conservation debates nearly always involve culling.

This isn’t because us Brits are blood-thristy, although one could easily come to that conclusion when looking back over the history of fox-hunting with dogs (which has been banned since 2004, and enforced from 2005). But no, this time around the culling in question is to reduce the number of cases of bovine TB. The animals deemed responsible for the rise? Badgers.

The badger cull currently in question was due to take place this winter, but was postponed until next June because the number of badgers ‘needed’ to be killed is much higher than originally estimated. This is because the early figures on the population number of badgers are shown to have greatly underestimated the number of the species.

Badgers are an important part of the Eco-system here, but numbers have grown to up to 81 badgers in a 100 ha area in some parts of the UK, and in correlation, the number of bovine TB cases had risen to 3,741 new cases in 2011.

I must admit that, due largely to their nocturnal nature I expect, I have never seen a badger in the wild myself.Those against the cull say that badgers are being made an easy scapegoat for disease in livestock.

I am intrigued as to whether all subspecies of badgers carry the diseases and how it affects the local Eco-systems in other areas. I wonder if there is a more humane way to deal with the cull? I’d like to know your thoughts.

Share this post:
RSS
Facebook1k
Google+32
Twitter2k
YouTube24
YouTube
LinkedIn712
Instagram2k
Soundcloud15
SOCIALICON