Barkham is not only the author of the informative, lyrical and very personal The Butterfly Isles, but the grandson of Jane Ratcliffe, who played a key part in the Badgers Act of 1973, "the first time in British history that a land mammal had been given specific protection from persecution". These mammals have, over the centuries, been regular recipients of deliberate cruelty (for amusement) from diggers and baiters, still present in the 21st century. Barkham devotes a chapter to a Yorkshire bait photographed with perpetrators "laughing as badgers were having their insides torn out by [their] dogs".
Why does the badger invite both blood-lust and empathic veneration? Why are so many English farmers, spearheaded by the NFU, so resolute in opposition to the vaccination course taken by the Welsh Assembly? Barkham has respectfully interviewed farmers, sincerely feeling for them in their losses of livestock and income. But he confesses to the troublesome thought that, even with no bovine TB, some farmers would urge a badger cull.
Badgers, their labyrinthine setts with latrines, their successful, largely harmonious social structures, present a comprehensive alternative world-system to ours, and it baffles us. We should take ourselves in hand. In his superb last chapter Barkham quotes six professionals who insist that intensive dairy-farming has produced "mutant cows" unable to resist TB, "a disease of poverty… many of our dairy cattle live in poverty equivalent to that of a workhouse in the industrial revolution". Yet instead of insisting on more merciful conditions for cattle the government goes for the 75 per cent slaughter of an independent-living wild species.
Book review: Badgerlands, By Patrick Barkham - Reviews - Books - The Independent
Prof John Bourne, who conducted the infamous ten year, government-funded study which showed that badger killing is a waste of time and money, recalled what he was told by a senior politician:
"Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers."
Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?
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