Of the main political parties in NI, it is the Alliance party which has consistently spoken out against plans to implement a targeted badger cull in NI.

It therefore came as no surprise when their MLAs were using terminology such as “good news” and “delighted” to describe their reaction to the judgement by Mr Justice Scoffield to quash a DAERA decision to proceed with a non-selective cull in TB hotspot areas.

According to the Alliance party, instead of badger culling, TB “can be controlled through enhanced cattle movement controls and a cattle test-vaccinate-remove strategy”.

It really does beg the question – what do they think farmers have been doing the last 50 years?

In the past 12 months, over 1.8m cattle have been tested in NI and on a significant number of farms, individual cattle have been tested two and three times. It is not good for the welfare of the cattle nor the farmers involved.

Expert groups

Over the years, we have had two expert groups look at the issue and both have concluded that we must deal with TB in wildlife.

Coupled to that is the DAERA 2022 roadkill data which shows 23% of badgers have TB, up from 16% in 2021. Given this test is not that sensitive, it is likely the infection rate is potentially much higher.

So it is clear we are caught in a cycle where TB is circulating in both cattle and badgers. To help break that cycle, the DAERA plan is seven years of targeted culling in TB hotspot areas to reduce the infection pressure, followed by eight years of badger vaccination. The ultimate aim is a healthy local badger population.

The alternative, which is favoured by some wildlife groups, is roll out of a test, vaccinate or remove (TVR) strategy for badgers. It sounds great in theory, but is costly, labour-intensive and would have minimal impact. It is not an option.

Those who continue to block plans to tackle the disease need to seriously consider what their ultimate objective is, because all they have achieved to date is ensure the suffering continues for both cattle and badgers. There was nothing to celebrate in the judgement from last week.

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