Ongoing culling of badgers is destroying our natural heritage
MARK Stephens has been an enthusiastic badger-watcher since his teenage years.
But there's a big problem for badgers in Ireland: they can carry bovine Tuberculosis (TB) and they've been blamed for difficulties in eradicating the disease from the national cattle herd.
TB is a complex disease which needs to be controlled to maintain Ireland's international animal health reputation. Control measures include improved on-farm hygiene, accurate identification of cattle, records of animal movement, regular testing of cattle by vets, and unfortunately for badgers, strict control of wildlife that can carry TB.
The ultimate aim is to prevent badgers from carrying the disease using an oral vaccine which can be given to them in baits. In the meantime, they are being culled.
The Department of Agriculture completed a first phase of culling in 2002, aiming to remove "all sources of infection in the 20pc of the country which yields some 50pc of TB reactors in cattle".
The current cull is focused on 28pc of agricultural land and it is taking place all over the country right now. Official figures indicate that about 71,000 badgers were culled between 1995 and 2010. The total national population of badgers is currently estimated at 70,000, so almost half of the national badger population has been eradicated.
In the UK, this level of killing of badgers would be politically unacceptable: animal lovers are too protective of old 'Mr Brock'. In Ireland, the subject is rarely discussed and badger culling happens quietly in the background.
Mark believes that even if every badger in the country were killed, TB reactors would continue to occur because of other factors. He feels that, instead, the Government should state a specific desired end point for the badger cull.
Mark believes the destruction of local populations is against the spirit of the Berne convention of 1979, under which the badger is protected in Europe.
Mark would like to see a change in policy to reduce the devastation of local badger populations. He believes that this can happen without compromising the campaign to reduce TB in cattle herds. Over to you, Department of Agriculture.