The Ulster Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) has condemned the badger cull announced by the Northern Ireland agriculture minister, Edwin Poots last week.

The measure is at the heart of a new strategy, which will be implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to reduce the levels of bovine TB (bTB) in cattle across Northern Ireland.  

USPCA chief executive, Brendan Mullan, said:

“This cull is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. We have pointed repeatedly to road kill statistics and DAERA’s TVR research project which indicates that four out of five badgers do not have TB.

“The department’s actions will see the killing of thousands of healthy badgers and will be seen as nothing other than a wildlife catastrophe for Northern Ireland.

“We are of the view that this decision lacks the adoption of emerging science and research in tackling the disease,” he added.

The USPCA said that a recent study, published in the official journal of the British Veterinary Association, provided an extensive analysis of bTB incidence in England over an 11-year period.

“It determined that, despite the culling of over 140,000 badgers, government data failed to identify any meaningful effect of the cull on the prevalence of the disease in herds,” Mullan said.

Badger population

Poots’ announcement included reference to ensuring that high welfare standards are adhered to when carrying out the free shooting of badgers.

But, according to Mullan, the UK government’s own independent expert branded recent culls in England as ‘inhumane and ineffective’.

“Ultimately, a much more proportionate and humane approach is trap, vaccinate or remove.

“DAERA’s own research project demonstrated that this is an effective mechanism to reduce TB in badgers, with prevalence reduced from 14% to less than 2%.

“We are disappointed that this has been rejected on the basis of cost and in favour of free shooting.”

DAERA’s initial consultation also cited potential changes to compensation rates and caps for affected farmers. It has now been confirmed that this review will be delayed for two years.

 “We do not agree that farmers’ should face compensation cuts,” Mullan continued.

“However we believe that these payments should be contingent on whether farms meet high standards of biosecurity.

“DAERA’s consultation itself highlighted that poor herd health management and lax biosecurity, increases the risk of disease.

“We are incredibly disappointed by DAERA’s decision; badgers are not the culprit here and we fear in five years’ time we will continue to see high prevalence of bTB in herds, despite this cull.

“Our badger population will suffer gravely as a result and to what end?”

USPCA has confirmed that it will be keeping these matters under close review during the period ahead.

The bTB announcement by Edwin Poots follows lengthy campaigning by the charity and other animal/environmental organisations in Northern Ireland.

This work included the raising of a petition in opposition to the cull, which garnered the support of over 10,000 signatories and was presented to the Stormont Assembly.