Farmers could push for badger cull in Wales

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Media captionThe start of the badger cull in England has reignited the debate in Wales

Some farmers in Wales say they will put pressure on the Welsh government to reconsider introducing a badger cull if a pilot scheme in England works.

A six-week controlled shooting of 5,000 badgers is under way in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

The Welsh government's preferred policy is to vaccinate badgers, with trial areas set up in south and mid Wales.

The Welsh government said a "sustainable and long-term approach" was needed to tackling bovine TB.

Supporters say the pilot cull in England is necessary to tackle bovine TB, which can be spread from infected badgers, but opponents have questioned the scientific evidence for it and say it is inhumane and ineffective.

Some farmers in TB-affected areas of west Wales are looking enviously at the cull schemes across the border in England, where the UK government has decided that culling may help to reduce the disease.

Steve James, a dairy farmer in Pembrokeshire and deputy president of NFU Cymru, said: "It's something Welsh farmers have been calling for for 20 years, to control wildlife.

"TB is a problem in cattle and we've had increased measures on us as farmers, as an industry, but each time nothing happens as far as wildlife is concerned.

"You can say they're culling in England and vaccinating in parts of Wales, so we've got both policies going ahead.

"But we know that vaccination on its own is not going to deliver an improved TB situation in Wales.

"We will definitely be looking to put pressure on the Welsh government, particularly if it's shown that [culling badgers] is working in England."

'No proof'

At the Royal Welsh Show last month, Wales' chief vet admitted the badger vaccination programme is expensive - at more than £600 per badger - and that there is no proof yet that vaccination works.

Dr Christianne Glossop also announced a scheme to encourage farmers and other groups to contribute towards vaccinating badgers if the programme is extended beyond trials in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

Wales' policy on tackling bovine TB has reversed over the past two years.

Image caption Brian May's campaigning against badger culls included the one that was proposed for Wales

A badger cull was first announced in April 2008 but was halted in the courts after an appeal by conservationists, including the rock star Brian May.

The Queen guitarist was a vocal opponent of badger culling and a representative of his charity Save Me was among wildlife and landowning organisations who met Dr Glossop.

The badger cull plans were revived in March 2011, before being put on hold when ministers commissioned a scientific review.

In March 2012, the Welsh government dropped plans to cull badgers, saying the decision was based on science and the law.

Ministers instead ordered a five-year vaccination programme.

The so-called intensive action area (IAA) is primarily located in north Pembrokeshire, but includes small parts of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.

Ministers in Wales say there is "no quick fix" and the emphasis should be on vaccines, better bio-security and tighter cattle movement measures.

Image caption Wales is in the second year of a five-year trial to trap and vaccinate badgers

A spokesperson said: "This should over time result in a decrease in the level of infection and reduce the risk of the disease spreading to cattle.

"We are currently in year two of a five-year programme and we would not expect to see any improvements at this stage, although the programme is being monitored to assess its long-term impact.

"Our current and future approach to tackling TB will continue to be driven by prevailing scientific considerations."

Opponents of the badger cull pilot schemes in England have criticised them for not looking at scientific data.

'Pointless cull'

Steve Clark, of Gwent Badger Group and a director of the Badger Trust, said: "We suspect between 90%-95% of badgers culled will not have TB but none of the carcasses will be examined to prove the point.

"We are grateful that the Welsh government has looked at this in a different way and has opted to pursue vaccination for badgers.

"We just hope that Westminster will look at the science in the same way rather than allow farmers to carry out a pointless cull."

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