The world's longest-running radio soap has just marked its 14,000th edition with a plotline that's striking a chord with everyday country folk.
For years The Archers has raised eyebrows with stories of rural infidelities, crime, unjust prison sentences and - rather more prosaically - the misfortunes of the farming industry. Now it's the law-breaking activities of one of Ambridge's more stolid citizens that's got the fans talking.
Ever since the sound of David Archer's shotgun faded away to be merged with the familiar strains of The Archers' famous theme tune, opinions have been divided over whether he should have taken the law into his own hands. David, provoked beyond endurance by a third TB outbreak among his cattle, shot dead a badger which had wandered into his farmyard.
Many farmers blame badgers - known to carry TB - for spreading the infection to their animals by urinating on grazing land. The problem has been particularly serious in the South West though it's now spread to the Midlands.
DEFRA is running pilot projects throughout the country designed to establish whether or not there is a link between bovine TB and badgers and the best way of dealing with the problem. In some areas badgers can be culled if cattle go down with TB. However it'll be several years before the results of these experiments are known.
There are strong indications that The Archers plotline is an accurate reflection of the situation in affected areas. Ed Barker used to run a family farm in Staffordshire but gave up the business following a third outbreak of TB among his cattle. He now works as the rural science technician at a Uttoxeter secondary school. He now looks after the school's farm animals and maintains the grounds and playing fields. He sympathises with David Archer's plight and says he personally knows of a number of local farmers who have killed badgers after their cows were infected with TB.
Irene Brierton helps run the Mid Derbyshire Badger Group which campaigns on behalf of this protected animal. The group nurses injured badgers back to health at a secret location. Irene says the group has long suspected that farmers have been taking the law into their own hands. On one occasion a group of badly decomposed badgers was found lying scattered in a field. The state of the carcasses made it impossible to determine the cause of death. "But it was obvious that they hadn't died of natural causes," she said.
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