On a balmy evening in 1685 two Spanish sailors, Jose and Hose B were on the starboard side of their ship moored just off the coast of Mauritius, when one remarked to the other, "Do you remember the dodo?" Four hundred years on two men, Will.i.am and Will.i.ain't, are stood in a willow plantation in Herefordshire, that was once a green meadow, when one remarks to the other, "Do you remember the cow?"
A fierce debate currently rages on, not that 97% of the British nation have realised, about whether or not to enter into an extensive badger cull. I say fierce, but then there is very little ferocious debate that can be stirred up from woolly badger lovers, just the added spice that the rent-a-mob activists will come and bash a badger dissing farmer. The cull is in reference to the rising tuberculosis levels in our nations cattle, which are critical from Carlisle to Carmarthan, from Penzance to Perth, and the belief that the largest native carnivorous mammal in the British Isles is to blame. Yes, dear old badger, agony uncle to Fantastic Mr Fox and close aide to Bodger, is no more than a disease ridden black and white pig. Off with his head! Or not? Unfortunately the subject is far from black and white.
TB compensation costs the British taxpayer over 20 million pounds a year, but money is immaterial when you consider how many cattle are slaughtered to get to that financial statistic. Fine, the animals are destined for the chop anyway, but we'd surely rather see them on a plate than in a plume disappearing up an incinerator chimney? The dairy industry, already on its knees and gagging in the dust, is disintegrating into history. Tens and tens of reacting TB dairy cattle are slaughtered out of hundred plus herds, to the point where the broken farmer pockets the compensation, then eases it into another venture; anything else just as long as it doesn't come with udders. Thirty years ago a drive through Wiltshire and Somerset would have set the sight of hundreds of roadside grazing Freisian cows full to the ears with milk. Go for a spin now and the only daisies you will see are speckled throughout the crops stretching to the horizon.
Beef prices are the highest they have been for twenty years, because the livestock numbers are spiralling down as more and more cattle are shot and burned as TB reactors and all the while those magpie faced mammals snuffle happily through the undergrowth sending squirts of destruction in their wake. Off with his head! Or not?
All badgers harbour TB, but only disturbed and stressed badgers become a danger of passing it on. While cattle can soak it up like a sponge there is no direct threat to humans, though of course if there was Billy badger would have gone the way of the dodo sometime ago. My cattle at Llanevan have been 'clean' of TB since 2003, yet there are three active badger sets, a trail of nocturnal traffic evidence and regular badger sightings. It is proof that both animals can live happily ever after in the same environment without urinating on the each others chips.
Theories abound that it was the cows all along what started it guv'nor, that they infected the badger and so the circle was set in motion, if this is the case then the corner becomes far more acute. The irony is that if a badger cull was to take place, the 97% wouldn't have a fiddler's guff that it had happened, because the beauty of the badger is they are essentially nocturnal; only appearing in daylight for the rare event of a Roald Dahl book to film Premiere. The only clue of a black and white trim would be the absence of black and white hit and runs on our country roads.
Poor old badger helped save Fantastic Mr Fox and he still gets bad press for being a dirty disease monger, despite the fact that they (along with the humble pig) are the only mammal to employ an en suite bathroom in their accommodation. Nobody, woolly, flat capped or uddered, wants to see the end of old magpie cheeks and it is wrong to heap all the blame onto his broad shoulders, but if nothing affirmative is done now, then in the near future we won't be eating beef or drinking milk. Though at least we won't be able to move for badgers.