Tension rises as badger cull looms in Pembrokeshire

By Iolo ap Dafydd
BBC Wales environment correspondent

Image caption,
Preparations to cull badgers are well under way in west Wales

Tensions are increasing in north Pembrokeshire as the Welsh Assembly Government's plans for a badger cull create anger and fear.

For the past two years, the authorities have been battling against the spread of bovine TB in cows.

They are moving towards trapping and shooting badgers, as they are known to carry the disease.

The assembly government will not say when the cull is to start, but it is believed to be imminent.

The badger cull has been ordered as part of a pilot project to cut bovine TB.

The scheme has faced vocal opposition from some campaigners, including the Badger Trust, which recently lost a legal bid to halt the project.

People in the area are anxious and concerned that the cull will prove divisive.

John Davies, the Pembrokeshire council leader, is also a farmer, and is worried about the effect on relations between neighbours with opposing views on the cull.

"What is of great concern to myself is the tensions that seem to be brewing in the land amongst communitites, between neighbours where there is a difference," he said.

"Everyone is entitled to have a different opinion on this matter... democracy has spoken and whether we agree with the consequence of that democratic process we have to abide by it.

"A lot of people are too afraid to speak on this matter."

The assembly government has said that TB in cattle is out of control in the area.

Last year, £24m was spent in compensation as infected cows were taken from farms for slaughter.

Recently three people were arrested, two for obstructing access to government officials and its contractors to conduct a badger sett survey at the Brithdir Mawr collective.

Officials have a legal right to access any land within the boundaries of the undisclosed cull area.

Many farmers who back the badger cull as one method of many to quash TB which has infected their cows are unwilling to talk in public.

There are fears they may be targeted for voicing their support for a policy in this part of Wales to kill a wild animal, which in other parts of the UK is protected by law.

Celia Thomas, chair of Pembrokeshire Against the Cull, said some people still did not realise that it would happen on their land.

"They have no idea that there's this order in place that allows the government access," she said.

"There are so many smaller landowners who think they can just opt out.

"Obviously the focus has to be on the bigger farmers and the cull is geared to try and reduce TB breakdowns. But in north Pembrokeshire we have an awful lot of people who aren't part of that network."

She said many farmers were concerned that the cull might not be the solution, and her group believed vaccination was a "much better way" of tackling the problem.

She said it was known that culling increasied the prevalence of TB in badgers, while the plans had had a "dreadful" effect on the community.

"Most of the landowners help each other out - it's always been that way. (But) the Welsh-English issue has reared its head again - it's totally divisive.

"People don't know which way to turn."

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