Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Passions Flow as Badger Cull Begins ; Protesters and Farmers Face off as Sharpshooters Aim for 5,000 Killings

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Passions Flow as Badger Cull Begins ; Protesters and Farmers Face off as Sharpshooters Aim for 5,000 Killings

Article excerpt

Protesters set up camp as sharpshooters began killing 5,000 animals over six weeks, a move intended to slow the spread of tuberculosis among cattle.

The sharpshooters came by night, with high-powered rifles and cages. Their foes came, too, with candles and masks and bright yellow slickers.

Britain's contentious badger cull, a trial limited to two broad tracts of countryside that is intended to kill 5,000 badgers over the next six weeks, was under way. And so was the campaign among badger lovers to stop it.

For months, the two sides have sparred. Farmers supporting the cull say badgers spread lethal bovine tuberculosis that devastates herds of cattle. The opponents maintain that there is no scientific proof that culling, which they call inhumane, will help.

But as the nation awoke on Tuesday to news that the cull had started in a broad area of Somerset and was to move on to parts of Gloucestershire, what seemed so especially English about the duel was the intensity of the passions that animals arouse on both sides. Similar emotions flowed in the struggle over a ban on hunting foxes with dogs, which was enacted in 2005.

Then, as now, the rival camps divided on which animal they favored most.

"We understand passions run high," said Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers' Union. "But we'd ask them to remember not just the 5,000 badgers we're talking about culling, but the 38,000 cattle slaughtered" when herds were found to be infected with bovine tuberculosis.

Not only that, he said, there was also "the emotional damage this disease does to farmers and their families."

David Barton, a farmer in Gloucestershire, said he had lost a third of his cattle to the disease over the past two years.

"These are animals I know," he told the BBC. "They have characters. And I hear people being very passionate about badgers, and I can empathize with them. …

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