Badger cull: rocker Brian May threatens legal action

Natural England expected to license a third year of badger culling in Somerset and Gloucestershire

Brian May
(Image credit: Getty)

Queen guitarist Brian May has threatened legal action if the divisive badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire goes ahead again this year.

Natural England is expected to announce the licensing of a third year of culling in the two counties and might even extend the pilot to Dorset. Ministers and farmers claim the culling is needed to tackle TB, which is spread from badgers to cattle.But lawyers instructed by May's Save Me Trust have warned Natural England they will challenge the legality of the cull with a judicial review in the High Court if it goes ahead.The Save Me Trust argues that the cull is unlawful because it does not "rationally serve the statutory purpose which permits the killing of badgers only to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of disease".The Trust claims there has also been a "fundamental failure in the consultation process, a logically flawed approach in calculating badger numbers and a failure in Gloucestershire in any event to meet its minimum targets in 2013 and 2014".Last year, it was estimated that a minimum of 615 badgers would need to be killed to reduce TB in livestock in Gloucestershire – but only 274 badgers, 45 per cent of that target, were culled. The government blamed the "challenges of extensive unlawful protest and intimidation" by anti-cull campaigners and promised to extend the cull to areas where tuberculosis was rife in cattle, reports the Bath Chronicle.A significant proportion of badgers in both areas were killed by cage trapping and shooting, rather than "controlled shooting" of free-running badgers, says the newspaperAn independent expert panel, commissioned by the government and published last year, said that the pilot culls were "inhumane and ineffective in dealing with the problem of TB in cattle" and that too many badgers took more than five minutes to die. The government claimed it would take the panel's recommendations on board, but has not asked for a follow-up review. Campaigners have called for alternative strategies, such as badger vaccination.

Badger cull: Brian May says he was banned from Springwatch

31 May 2013

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A controversial cull of badgers will begin this weekend, with farmers in parts of west Gloucestershire and west Somerset free to shoot the animals in an effort to stop the spread of bovine TB. As many as 5,000 badgers could be killed during a six-week period starting on 1 June. But protestors have vowed to try to disrupt the cull, which they say is inhumane and will not have the desired effect of reducing the incidence of TB in cattle. Protestors, led by Queen guitarist Brian May and TV presenter Bill Oddie, are set to march through London tomorrow in opposition to the move.

However, May, writing on his blog, has accused the media of denying him a platform to put forward his objections to the cull. The rocker appeared on ITV’s Loose Women earlier this week but revealed: "It was made very clear to me that I could not get into anything controversial." He said he was only able to "interject" a comment about the cull at the end of his interview. He added that attempts to appear on the BBC's Springwatch - once hosted by Oddie - to make his point had fallen flat. "There have been discussions about me appearing on Springwatch, but I have been told I would not be allowed to mention badgers or buzzards [whose nests are being legally destroyed]," he revealed. "This situation is intolerable in a so-called democracy." May did, however, appear on BBC Radio 5 on Friday morning where he dismissed the government's scientific justification of the cull as "absolute rot and rubbish". His argument has been backed by The Independent. It described the cull as a "triumph of political expediency over scientific evidence". The pilot culls in the West Country are designed to see if shooting free-running badgers is a viable and humane way to kill enough of the animals, explains The Guardian. In previous culls, it was attempted to trap the badgers first. The Guardian says the "humaneness" of the cull will be measured by the noises made by shot badgers "and comparisons with harpooned whales". That claim prompted more outrage among opponents of any cull. Taking the farmers’ side, the Daily Telegraph said: "It is widely accepted that badgers spread TB to cattle, and officials estimate around half of herd infections come from badgers. "Farmers say the disease is devastating their businesses and lives and that everything possible must be done to tackle it."

Badger cull: Brian May calls milk boycott as saboteurs prepare

20 September 2012

A coalition led by the RSPCA and rock star Brian May have called on consumers to boycott milk from areas where badger cull trials are being planned. Meanwhile a police chief has said the presence of saboteurs in areas where badger shooting takes place will make the culls a risk to public safety.

The two trials in Gloucestershire and Somerset are not being carried out to ascertain whether killing badgers can control bovine TB; instead they are testing the effectiveness of shooting as a way to cull badgers. But opponents insist culling is not an effective way to control the spread of the disease and vaccination should be used instead.

Earlier this week the trial in Gloucestershire was given the official go ahead. In response, an e-petition, 'Stop the badger cull', was created, which will be considered for a debate in the House of Commons if it reaches 100,000 signatures. It currently has over 65,000.

Now Team Badger, a coalition of 18 animal welfare groups, is urging tourists to avoid areas where badgers are being "horrifically slaughtered" and to boycott milk from those farms involved, reports The Daily Telegraph.

Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, said: "Those who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers' blood"

He added that the boycott would force farmers and landowners to feel the "commercial consequences" of allowing the cull on their land.

Brian May, the Queen guitarist and environmentalist, said he "would certainly not drink milk that comes at a price of badgers being slaughtered," and urged others to do the same from the "minute the first badger is shot".

May does not intend to take part in any direct action, but others are already in Gloucestershire, marking out where they need to be when the shooting starts, with the aim of causing as much havoc as possible.

Groups like the Hunt Saboteurs Association and Stop the Cull plan to patrol the target areas, making noise to scare away the badgers and disrupting shooting areas set up for the cull.

One activist told The Guardian: "We plan to be here with loudhailers, bright lights, high-visibility jackets. They want to try to do the cull quietly. We aren't going to let them."

The groups are trying to set up temporary campsites in the cull zones and are asking sympathisers to open up spare rooms in their homes to protesters as more and more activists head to the area.

Already the tactics seem to be taking effect: The Guardian reports that superintendent Adrian Tudway, national co-ordinator for domestic extremism at the Association of Chief Police Officers, has warned the government that the cull poses a safety risk to the public.

Tudway told Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that the cull has the "potential to place armed farm workers in the near vicinity of protesters and activists, typically during the night-time; we regard this as a scenario with clear potential for harm to public safety".

Brian May and Team Badger step up war on 'crazy' cull

18 September 2012

The imminent launch of badger cull trials in the west of England has been dubbed "crazy" by a leading expert on the subject and brought wildlife campaigners out in force.

The trial badger culls are to go ahead in undisclosed areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset within weeks. The two trials are not being carried out to ascertain whether killing badgers can control bovine TB; instead they are testing the effectiveness of shooting as a way to cull badgers.

The trial culls will continue for six weeks. If the culls are found to be humane and badgers can be killed in sufficient numbers, the cull will continue for four years.

In this eventuality, further trials are likely to be started, with up to 10 licences issued per year. However, it is expected that the incidence of bovine TB will only fall by about 16 per cent in the trial areas over nine years.

While farmers are pleased that the culling trials are going ahead, wildlife groups and many scientists are baffled as to why the government is ignoring the advice of its own experts.

Thanks to a major study, the 'Krebs trial' in the 1990s, it is generally agreed that the culling of badgers is ineffective as a method of controlling bovine TB. In fact the study found that culling badgers can actually make bovine TB worse, because it encourages infected survivors to move around the countryside.

In 2007, the Independent Scientific Group concluded that "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain" and that the disease could be contained by "cattle-based control measures alone".

Lord Krebs, the scientist who led the Krebs trial, told the BBC yesterday that the government should choose vaccination and control of cattle movements "rather than this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none. And it's very hard to see how DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) are going to collect the crucial data to assess whether it's worth going ahead with free shooting at all".

Speaking on Channel 4 News last night, rock star Brian May said the cull "cannot solve the problem" and warned that "a terrible, terrible tragedy is about to unfold". May is fronting a campaign against the cull called Team Badger, which is made up of a coalition of animal charities, including the RSPCA and the Born Free Foundation.

The bird protection charity RSPB says it opposes a cull and will never allow the practise on its land. The charity's conservation director Martin Harpersaid: "The dairy industry has endured terrible times while trying to cope with this devastating disease. However, we have never been convinced that the best way to help farmers is to force them to foot the bill for a contentious cull that is only expected to reduce outbreaks by about 16 per cent."

Even supermarkets have felt moved to distance themselves from the massacre of badgers, with Waitrose, M&S and the Co-op telling the BBC they will not stock milk from farms that allow badger culls (although the identity of farmers involved in the trials is being kept secret).

But in The Daily Telegraph, Clive Aslet, of Country Life magazine, puts forward the view of a farmer he met who says badgers need to be culled for their own protection against a debilitating disease. "It may not be a point that activists find easy to accept," writes Aslet. "But, as with foxes, a love of badgers is not incompatible with killing them. What is undeniably bad for an individual badger may be good for the health of the species."

And Anne McIntosh, a Conservative MP on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, told Newsnight: "We owe it to the farmers and to the rural economy of the areas most badly affected - and to the badgers themselves - to eliminate bovine TB, which we have singularly failed to do."

McIntosh is wary of going down the vaccination route. "What happens to the meat and milk from cattle who show signs of TB after being vaccinated?" She asks. "Will it be allowed to be exported?"

Meanwhile, badger lovers have taken to Twitter to drum up support for a government 'e-petition', which if it attracts 100,000 signatures will automatically trigger a debate on the cull in the House of Commons.

The 'hashtag' #replacelovewithbadgersongs was trending on the social media site today, encouraging users to replace the word 'love' in famous songs with the word 'badger'.

The stunt had the desired effect: the word 'badger' was soon trending. Between yesterday and today, approximately 20,000 new signatures have been added to the petition.

Brian May's Olympics badger badge sparks anger and praise

13 August 2012

DID BRIAN MAY make a political statement about a controversial badger cull while performing at the Olympics closing ceremony last night? The Queen guitarist's decision to wear shoulder patches depicting a badger and a fox has been praised by wildlife lovers while farmers and countryside rights activists have called it "appalling" and "disappointing".

The animal emblems could be seen as May and singer Jessie J performed their rendition of Queen's We Will Rock You in front of a global TV audience.

The legendary guitarist, who also has a PhD in astrophysics, has been vociferous in his opposition to the Government's controversial plan to conduct scientific trials aimed at fighting bovine tuberculosis. The trials will involve culling thousands of badgers. In July, May said it was "ludicrous" that a vaccine for cattle was not being used instead.

  • Brian May responds: I was celebrating all British wildlife

Last night his stage outfit drew a flurry of comments. While Danny Boyle's opening ceremony two weeks ago celebrated a green and pleasant land, denizens of the rural idyll seemed divided by May's badger badge.

The Countryside Alliance wrote that it was "appalling to see Brian May making a political statement with his fox and badger badges" while field sports photographer Country Lady Amy called it "very disappointing".

Dairy farmer Pete Ledbury accused the guitarist of "sticking two fingers up to the people who make the British countryside what it is".

But Alice Bell, a science writer with 9,500 Twitter followers, praised May's actions and suggested the cull had been postponed until after the Olympics because police would otherwise have been unable to handle the expected protests. This, she said "makes Brian May's reference to it in closing ceremony more pointed".

The North Wildlife Trust, meanwhile, tweeted that May was "rocking out for wildlife, amazing!"

May has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Farmers were forced to slaughter 25,000 animals in 2010 alone to curb the rising number of tuberculosis infections. But many opponents argue that culling actually runs the risk of making bovine TB more widespread. A decade-long landmark trial found that badgers displaced by culls simply carry the disease elsewhere. It also discovered that, at best, the incidence of TB was reduced in the cull area by just 16 per cent after nine years.

A badger vaccination programme is to replace culling in Wales following a successful legal challenge there. But the Badger Trust's high court bid to stop the cull in England failed last month, meaning culls could begin as early as September.

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