Owen Paterson on badgers

Earlier today I blogged about Owen Paterson, our new Secretary of State at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), being interviewed by Farmers Weekly. What do you think of that interview?

I’m wary of party politics. So I won’t write off Mr Paterson for being a Tory, although I’m not one myself. Some of my best friends are Tories. But when he talked of badgers (Meles meles) and tuberculosis (TB) he didn’t convince me.

As you know from my recent post ‘What to do about badgers’ I’ve come to the opinion that the mass cull of badgers, now starting in Britain, is a bad idea. I trust the previous Government’s Independent Scientific Group which concluded that culling ‘can make no meaningful contribution.’

Mr Paterson said, ‘…we need a badger cull. I went to America and saw what they had done with white-tailed deer in Michigan. It is absolutely clear: you have to remove a reservoir of disease in wildlife alongside a whole lot of other measures – like cattle controls and all the rest of it.

It has been done with buffalo in Australia’s Northern Territory, and it has been done with possums in New Zealand. It is really no exception here.’

These examples from abroad are news to me but I’ve found this about the Michigan white-tailed deer story, this about the Australian buffalo story and this about the New Zealand possum story.

It’s a lot of information, too much to digest quickly. But Mr Paterson didn’t even mention the UK’s Independent Scientific Group. Why not? As I wrote in my previous post, these people studied our own situation in great detail. No doubt they considered the examples from abroad alongside British examples. And they reached a clear conclusion: don’t cull British badgers.

So what if the experts in the Independent Scientific Group were hired by a Labour Government, Mr Paterson? That’s not a good enough reason to ignore them.

Mr Paterson then talks rubbish. He says, ‘You cannot let this disease keep increasing in wildlife until we get a vaccine.’ Eh? We’ve got one! My earlier post considered the pros and cons of vaccinating wild badgers but it’s just wrong to suggest that the vaccine doesn’t exist.

On one thing I do agree with Mr Paterson. He says, ‘We can’t live in Wind in the Willows sentimentality – we have to live in the real world.’ It’s just that I’m not convinced he *is* living in the real world on this particular point. Unless the ‘real world’ he means is the world of winning votes from the farming lobby.

Mr Paterson talks good sense on several other points in the Farmers Weekly interview, I think. But on badgers? No. I don’t agree with him.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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3 Responses to Owen Paterson on badgers

  1. I hope he listens, and reviews the evidence. One of the points my sister made very firmly is that part of the badgers diet is pheasant eggs. Which explains a lot about some of the people in the ‘lets kill them all’ camp.

    And this, on the fox hunting ban, doesn’t bode well:
    “During the debate one Tory, Owen Paterson, likened supporters of the legislation to Nazis. He claimed only ‘honest, decent’ people went hunting and the alternatives of trapping and snaring were ‘hideously cruel’. A ban would do terrible damage to sheep farmers, he said.
    Mr Paterson argued that hunts drew young people into a ‘social network that will last all their lives’.”

    • argylesock says:

      That’s interesting about pheasant eggs. This thread isn’t a place to discuss whether or not people should do bloodsports but as it happens, pheasants are farmed for that purpose.

      As you know, many pheasant eggs are laid in captivity and hatched in incubators. In that sense a pheasant farmer is quite like a poultry farmer. Certain predators will eat the eggs if allowed access – foxes, badgers, rats, cats, dogs. Such animals need to be excluded from the farm buildings but that doesn’t mean they need to be killed.

      You have a point about Mr Paterson being pro-bloodsports. I’m adding bloodsports to my to-blog list.

  2. Pingback: What to do about tuberculosis in cattle | Science on the Land

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