Badgers may be culled to stop disease spreading

 By Claire Simpson


The Department of Agriculture and Rural development has been granted a licence to capture up to 1,000 badgers. These badgers could be killed in a bid to halt the spread of animal tuberculosis. 

Up TO 1,000 badgers found to be infected with tuberculo≠sis could be killed for the first time in Northern Ire-land in a bid to halt the spread of the disease in cattle.

Badgers are protected animals under Northern Ireland law but farmers have long called for a cull to protect their livestock. 

The Department of the Environment (DOE) has now granted a licence to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), allowing it to capture up to 1,000 badgers. If an animal is found to be infected with TB then it can be shot. 

It will be the first time DARD has attempted to see how many of the north's 33,500 badgers are infected with the disease. 

Previously only badgers who were killed on the roads were tested for TB. Cases of the disease are on the in-crease, with around £21 million in com≠pensation paid last year to farmers whose cattle were infected. A positive test quarantines a farm for months until all the animals are clear of TB. 

Farmers' unions in the north and Britain have insisted a selective badger cull is the only way to stop its spread.

However, many conservationists and scientists claim there is no conclusive evidence that infected badgers pass the disease to cattle. 

A DARD spokesman said the license allowed it to take "a limited number of badgers... to determine the levels of TB in those badgers". 

"The proposal is still in the planning stages and no final decision has yet been made to go ahead with it," he said. 

Ulster Farmers' Union president Graham Furey said it wanted diseased badgers "to be removed from the countryside.

"Thousands of farm animals are slaughtered every year but this is having little effect because farmers firmly believe that the disease remains preva≠lent in wildlife, particularly badgers." he said.

"When farms are re-stocked, the ani≠mals are simply contracting the dis≠ease again because it has remained on the farm in the badger population. 

"Farmers want decisive action to be taken and diseased badgers removed from the countryside; this would be both an animal welfare friendly deci≠sion and would provide the break-through the farming industry needs to obtain a TB free status." 

However, Andrew Upton from the Ul≠ster Wildlife Trust said he was "very concerned about the lack of informa≠tion coming to us" about the testing of badgers.