A number of wildlife and conservation groups have now joined forces calling on the general public to sign a petition against DAERA plans to cull badgers in NI.

Those plans are set out in a document currently out for public consultation, and involve non-selective culling mainly by free shooting of badgers in tightly defined TB hotspot areas. DAERA has proposed that the cost of that is borne by farmers, and is estimated at £14m across a 1,200km2 area over a seven-year period.

In NI, 17% of badgers are infected with the disease (a figure not disputed by conservation groups). The equivalent figure in cattle is 0.74%. The aim of the cull is to get the disease pressure down among the wildlife population before rolling out vaccination.

Following the cull, the Department would vaccinate badgers over the following eight years, and during this period it is anticipated that badger numbers would recover to pre-cull levels. The long-term NI policy proposal mirrors the approaches being taken in the Republic of Ireland and England.

It is also broadly in line with the recommendations made by two expert groups in NI – the TB Strategic Partnership Group and the TB Eradication Partnership. Both spent hundreds of hours gathering evidence and engaging with scientists, and came to the conclusion that a cull of badgers was necessary.

However, various conservation groups, supported by a number of MLAs, don’t accept that conclusion.

On the other side of the argument are farmers who are expected to embrace cuts to compensation for TB reactors, and potentially stricter controls. It seems untenable that any of these changes can be brought in without a cast iron commitment from DAERA that it will undertake meaningful intervention to control TB in wildlife.

The alternative is that nothing changes, and we just keep the same miserable cycle of testing going, to the long-term detriment of both farmers and wildlife.

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