Badgering UK’s Environment Secretary

Is this the end of “badger bashing”?

Prime Minister David Cameron has just carried out a sweeping and fairly vicious Cabinet reshuffle.  So many of the old guard gone, some resigning and some sacked, swept aside to make room for young women, or “Cameron’s cuties” as they are known.  With an election just a year away it looks like he’s panicking, and is hoping that a youthful government will appeal to the younger voter.

A pity he didn’t reshuffle himself in his “night of the long knives”, but at least we can be glad of one removal.  All those working to protect our precious (and valuable) environment, and particularly those who are fighting to stop the disastrous badger culling, were greatly cheered to hear that finally we can wave goodbye to Owen Paterson, labelled “badger basher” and the “worst Environment Secretary ever”.

Despite the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Alliance and other friends lobbying David Cameron to keep him in place, he’s gone. According to the Daily Mirror he was understood to have “paid the price for the botched badger cull and the Government’s cack-handed response to this winter’s floods”.  Allies reacted with fury at his departure, with one peer saying it could cost the Tories “12 million votes in the countryside”.

The Western Morning News, an assiduous follower of Owen Paterson and badger cull news, quoted National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond: “He understands farmers, he understands the farming community and he understands how important food production is going to be in the future and therefore need for a competitive farming industry.”

And Tory peer Lord Howard of Rising said: “He is incredibly popular in the countryside. He is doing all those things that we in the countryside would like to see done.”  But if he was so popular with farmers, then why did an online poll conducted by the Farmers Weekly say that 83% of respondents wanted to see Paterson removed?  And they suggested that his removal would put the future of the badger culls in doubt.

One should remember that the NFU has a very loud voice but only represents 18% of farmers.  Farmers have not been well served by Paterson’s relentless pursuit of badger culling whilst ignoring not just the science which says that killing badgers will make little difference to cutting bovine TB in cattle, but the successful and ongoing reduction of bovine TB in Wales through proper controls.

Farmers have seen opinions on culling divide their communities and damage their reputations.  They do, quite desperately, need support in tackling TB in their herds, but that support needs to be centred upon better vaccination and testing, better bio-security and better controls on cattle movements.  Far better to put resources into this than waste it on needlessly killing badgers.

Mark Jones, vet and executive director of Humane Society International UK has this to say:

The departure of Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for Environment provides an opportunity for government to re-examine its disastrous, divisive and pointless badger cull.  Mr Paterson has consistently failed to listen to science, reason and public opinion on this issue, and by doing so he has stood in the way of progress and given farmers, taxpayers, and most of all badgers, a very bad deal.  In order to demonstrate her support for both England’s wildlife and its farming community, his replacement Liz Truss should immediately abandon the badger cull and set about implementing the genuinely science-led cattle and farm-based measures to tackle bovine TB that are so urgently required.  Only then will England hope to see the kind of dramatic decline in tuberculosis that we are seeing in Wales, where the infection is being brought under control without a single badger being killed.

But Paterson was not just a danger to our wildlife and beleaguered farmers.  On all fronts where the public would expect an Environment Secretary to act for the good of the environment, Paterson failed to do his job.  Funding was withdrawn from flood defence work and when the Somerset Levels were suffering a major flood early this year, he turned up weeks late and without his wellington boots.

Rather than pushing for policies that will help mitigate climate change, he is a climate change sceptic.  His brother-in-law Matt Ridley is “an arch sceptic”.  So is Lord Lawson, who also campaigned  for Paterson to stay in his post.  With such supporters how could Paterson not insist that he didn’t think climate change would amount to much and may even be a good business opportunity for Britain?

He also, again ignoring science and wilfully misquoting facts, supported GM crops, and the pesticides that are not only killing our bees but a great deal else that is necessary to the health of our land and our food production.  Agro-business people may have found him a useful ally, but for the rest of us, and that must surely include farmers who do care about the land they farm, he has been a disaster.

We can only hope that his replacement Liz Truss will consult with the experts that should be guiding the policy on TB eradication rather than allow herself to be pressured by the NFU and the Farming Minister George Eustice.  Will she stand up for the environment or lie down for Monsanto et al?

Paterson’s sacking could see the end of the much hated badger culls and a return to sanity and a push for and support of better farming practices.  As John Sauven of Greenpeace says:

So for now at least, the badgers have outlasted Owen Paterson.  If history remembers him, it will not be kind.  An ideological attachment to climate change denial saw him sack people working on flood defences just when we needed them most.  When his own scientists tried to brief him, he refused to hear them out.  Hopefully his successor will have an affinity for evidence-based policy-making.  Mr. Patterson most certainly did not.

Lesley is a lover of animals, campaigns and writes on war/peace, climate change and the environment. She is the former editor of Abolish War. Read other articles by Lesley.