This week Natural England announced that it had received 29 applications for new badger cull areas, covering the entire south-west of England, extending to Herefordshire Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Under the beady eye of their masters at Defra, Natural England have opened a “consultation”. But this consultation does not extend to telling anyone exactly where the cull areas are to be located, how many badgers are currently in these areas, nor how many badgers would need to be culled to be judged a success. From previous culls we can assume that Defra will be aiming for around a 70% cull.
Killing badgers is very, very expensive. Just policing the cull in an area of Dorset last year cost £694000 for 756 badgers – that’s an eye watering £918 per dead badger. Total costs during the Somerset/Gloucestershire pilots were £6775 per badger killed.
Compare this with the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s budget of £278000 a year – a Unit which is under threat of its own cull by Defra.
All the scientific evidence indicates that killing badgers is not the right way to tackle bovine TB in cattle. One leading badger/bTB scientist writes about her experience here.
But this isn’t about science, it’s about politics. The south-west is part of the Tory heartland (especially now with the demise of the south-west LibDems) and it’s no coincidence that Neil Parish, Tory chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, is a Devon MP and cattle farmer. Or that Defra Number 2 Minister George Eustice is a Cornwall MP.
It’s also now very clear that the National Farmers Union is firmly embedded within the Defra political apparatus – it’s no longer appropriate to call them lobbyists, as that would imply they were on the outside, when they are very much on the inside.
It’s also no coincidence that the Government should ignore science and take one special interest group’s position as gospel when it comes to the Badger cull.
As I wrote earlier this week, the Government has decided to listen closely to another favourite interest group, the free-market fundamentalist Institute for Economic Affairs, and their utterly spurious but toxic claims about Charity lobbying, and implement them in haste without consultation.
The decision, to stop charities from using “tax payers’ money” to lobby Government or Parliament (or the EU), will not have any impact on NFU’s capacity to influence UK and European policy as they are not a charity and they do not – directly – receive government funding. Indirectly of course they are very much funded by tax-payer’s money, as their members receive huge subsidies from the Government, via the European Commission. And they pass on this income to the NFU through their membership subs.
It seems depressingly ironic that the Government should be shutting down opportunities for Civil Society to say things to it, that it doesn’t want to hear; while paying ever greater attention to private interests groups, driven by personal profit or an extreme ideology that puts profit before everything else.
This Government is becoming increasingly picky about who it wants to hear from, and who it is going to listen to. The trouble is, if you only listen to what your friends tell you, and only hear what you want to hear, you end up living in a bubble – and becoming a narcissist.