Shropshire protesters ask for change of heart over badger cull

Protesters have staged a demonstration in Shrewsbury town centre over the Government's controversial badger cull plans. Trial culls were getting underway today.

Anti-badger cull protesters staged a demonstration in Shrewsbury Square. They said support from county people was amazing.
Anti-badger cull protesters staged a demonstration in Shrewsbury Square. They said support from county people was amazing.

Protest group Shropshire Against the Cull gathered in the Square, yesterday afternoon.

Up to a dozen gathered for around four hours and the group ran out of the 300 campaign posters they brought to hand out to passers-by.

Lorraine Parker, one of the organisers of the event, said the group should have printed off another 200 but had been surprised by the response. "We'vereally been overwhelmed by people looking at our posters and people are very upset about the cull and want to do something about it," she said.

"There has been so much scientific debate about this issue but I think both of the sides need to go back to the drawing board to look at alternatives such as vaccination.

"A lot of people think the reasons behind the cull are just Government propaganda and our democracy is at stake here because opinion polls show 84 per cent of people don't want it."

She added: "The support from Shropshire people has been absolutely amazing and we should have really made 500 postcards because of how well supported we were."

Another protester, who asked not to be named, said the signed postcards would be sent to minister Oliver Letwin.

Trial culls which will see farmers allowed to shoot thousands of badgers in two areas of the country got underway today.

The trial, in two areas of the south west, is one of the most controversial agricultural policies backed by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, also the MP for North Shropshire.

Mr Paterson has pushed ahead with plans to cull 5,000 badgers as part of the effort to tackle the growing problem of TB in cattle, in the teeth of fierce opposition.

Farmers blame badgers for spreading the disease, and from today licensed marksmen will begin killing the animals in two six-week pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

The aim is to kill at least 70 per cent of badgers across areas about the size of the Isle of Wight.

Mr Paterson stood by the scheme and said it is vital to reduce the incidence of TB from the current 3.6 per cent of herds to a threshold of less than 0.2 per cent.

It is estimated that TB has cost the taxpayer in England £500 million to control in the last 10 years.

More than 37,000 dairy and beef cattle were slaughtered in 2012, at a cost to the taxpayer of £100 million.

Between January and February this year, 6,307 cattle were slaughtered, according to Defra. In Shropshire, more than 9,000 cattle have been slaughtered over the past five years.

In 1997, 47 cows were culled in Shropshire; last year, it was more than 1,900.

Mr Paterson has said: "For the good of our cattle industry, our wildlife and our countryside, until we can use alternate means, such as vaccines – which are 10 years off – we have to use the current weapons available.

"One of those, alongside cattle controls, is bearing down on disease in wildlife. And we will do that."

He has said that it will take 20 to 25 years of hard culling to get to the 0.2per cent target, but if the trial is deemed successful then it will be extended.

"If the two pilot culls are declared efficient, safe and humane, we will definitely be extending them," he added.

"We will roll out 10 new cull zones next year, and 10 more in each of the three years after that."

Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski has urged Mr Paterson to put Shropshire at the top of the list for any extension to the cull.

But Shropshire Wildlife Trust has called on Mr Paterson to change his plans and try other methods as well as culling.

The group, which looks after 38 nature reserves in the county, would rather see other options explored.

Development manager John Hughes said: "We are certainly against the badger cull as the only option. We are not against trying to solve the problem of TB within cattle because we realise that is a very serious problem for people trying to run, particularly, a dairy business.

"We are trying to promote that there isn't a single solution to the problem and you need to do a mix of things.

"We are carrying out vaccinations of badgers on our land – we accept it is on a small scale but we are one of a number of organisations doing that and feeding in our results to the government veterinary agency."

Mr Hughes said his message to Mr Paterson would be to look at the science, which raises concerns that the policy will have unimpressive results in reducing TB.

He added: "The problem is the disease, it isn't badgers.

"You lose sight of what the real issue is, just going out and killing badgers is a knee jerk reaction."

But Mr Hughes said the trust was also against campaigners' ideas to disrupt the cull.

Policing costs are expected to reach £4 million to cope with potential disruption from activists.

Protesters, led by rock star Brian May, who has branded Mr Paterson "smug", have pledged to do everything possible to stop the cull, which they claim is not justified and is inhumane.

Opponents point to evidence that badgers move more if culling disturbs them, spreading TB and increasing infection around the edges of the cull area.

Thousands of people wearing badger masks are expected to join Mr May and naturalist Bill Oddie in London today in a protest which will culminate in a petition signed by 228,000 people being handed in to Downing Street.

Mr Paterson travelled to Australia and New Zealand to see how other nations have addressed their TB problems and said their programme of testing, cattle slaughter, movement controls was "astounding".

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