Love 'em or hate 'em, they are certainly controversial. Die hard fans of badgers can be seen at every opportunity promoting their cause, raising the profile of this endangered species. Whilst others will overlook the Protection of badgers act 1992 and schedule 6 of the wildlife and countryside act 1981, and despatch the creatures given half a chance. Along with the licensed badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the subject of badgers raises a few emotive topics. The obvious one being bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).
It is understandable why there are such strongly divided opinions. Arguments both for and against badger culling all seem to centre around 'scientific evidence'. Surely if this is the case, both sides of the argument are as much wrong as they are right?
In the 1930's cattle herds all over England were carrying incidences of bTB. Dairy herds that were operating in and around cities to provide fresh milk were commonly found to be infected with the disease, and the milk was a potent source of infection. Testing became compulsory and, similar to today, reactors were culled. However after some 65 years of costly tests, and thousands of slaughtered cattle, the disease still seems to be one step ahead of the industry.
Here though, up in the Chilterns, we are fortunate not to have suffered from the catastrophic effects that the disease inflicts on many cattle herds. We recently passed our TB test without any problems, The badgers haven't brought it onto the farm, so we must have no reason to have any negativity toward these bold and distinctive mammals? Well...no, not quite.
These images are taken from the foot of Beacon Hill. This is one of our conservation sites on the farm. We manage it in accordance with Natural England's advice, in order to preserve and encourage the diverse range of rare wild flowers and grasses that grow there. The management programme consists of no chemical inputs, along with targeted grazing through mixed stocking. The idea is that it mimics historical patterns where a mixture of wildlife would've come through and grazed at various intervals before modern intensive agricultural practices became commonplace.
However you can see the extensive damage caused by badgers. They root up the top 2 or 3 inches of turf looking for bugs and insects, whilst at the same time destroying all the hard work that we have been doing for many years, and year on year it is undoubtedly getting worse.
As far as the debate goes though, grassland destruction is hardly a reason to call for mass culling of badgers. We are bTB free and very thankful that we don't have to live with some of the restrictions and hardships that some farmers do. The destruction of the historical grasslands that we have worked hard to protect though is impossible to ignore. The badgers Act 1973 prohibits the taking, injuring or killing of badgers. The species has been protected all this time, and with no natural predators, their numbers are sure to increase exponentially.
The debate surrounding badger culls and bTB will continue to grab headlines, and as long as we stay bTB free on this farm, I'll stay out of that one. We do have our own little badger problem though, recognised by many grass farmers and gardeners alike, displaying clear evidence that badger populations in the Chilterns are healthy, and getting healthier.