GRAHAM TURNER: Minister is in a no-win situation

A personal view
A personal view
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Who’d want to be the minister in charge of farming this week? As the badger cull gets under way in the West Country, the poor chap must himself feel like a hunted animal.

Just as Lord Beeching’s name has become synonymous with the decimation of our railways, environment secretary Owen Paterson will be forever known as the man who ordered the killing of thousands of badgers.

But what an impossible situation he’s in.

On the one hand, there’s the farming industry having to destroy tens of thousands of head of cattle each year because they are infected with bovine tuberculosis, and on the other, a very vocal and active lobby defending one of our most iconic wildlife species – but a species that carries the disease.

I suppose the one thing he couldn’t do was nothing, the stakes are too high.

I remember very well the first time I saw a badger up close as a teenager. A teacher took a group of us along to visit friends who had badgers in their garden and each evening they came and took the food put out for them. Beautiful and intelligent-looking creatures, I remember being surprised at how big they were.

I still see the occasional badger while I’m walking the dog early or late in the day and each time it takes me back the that first sighting. I can completely understand why people are fighting their corner in the West Country.

However, I can’t help but feel sympathy for the farmers who lose cattle which they’ve carefully bred and reared.

The scientific arguments produced by both sides seem to cancel each other out – who to believe?

Whether you agree with Owen Paterson’s decision or not, he has shown courage in making it. I suppose we just have to hope that a better solution is found before he feels he needs to extend the cull beyond the current pilot areas. How long before a safe vaccination is produced for cattle? It surely has to be a top priority.

-- I must apologise to all farmers who found their harvest curtailed by rain over the early part of the weekend. I surely jinxed them by writing last week about the good weather they had been enjoying over the past few weeks