NFU Deputy President Minette Batters has written to Dominic Dyer, the Badger Trust CEO, to challenge him on claims made in the press.
Ms Batters wrote:
'Dear Mr Dyer
After seeing and hearing your recent comments accusing farmers and landowners of illegal activity I feel compelled to challenge your claims.
'The NFU does not, and will never, condone any illegal action and that includes illegally killing badgers, I want to make that clear from the start. However, you seem determined to conduct a campaign against farming by presenting unsupported prejudices as fact.
'A case in point is your recent letter to the Defra Secretary of State Liz Truss in which you made two notable statements – that the pilot badger culls had led to a huge increase in the illegal killing of badgers, and that there has been a worrying escalation in the number of farmers and landowners willing to illegally kill badgers by gassing, shooting, poisoning and snaring.
'You appear to have absolutely no evidence to back this claim up. You claim that the Badger Trust’s own UK Badger Incidents 2013 report showed incidents of badger persecution had increased from 323 to 697 in just one year. The same report says 140 dead badgers were found and their deaths reported as suspicious. However, the report later says the vast majority of these 140 deaths were “more likely to have been the result of a collision with a vehicle or the outcome of territorial behaviour”. It’s surprising that, despite your own report saying these were likely to have been accidents or the result of natural behaviour, you still claim they are the result of badger persecution or illegal activity. You also seem to draw the conclusion, with no evidence, that this is largely the fault of the farming industry.
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'You also fail to mention how many of the total number of incidents were actually investigated fully and confirmed as persecution or illegal activity. You are very quick to quote a headline figure of 697 persecution incidents but a closer look at the report seems to undermine this. For example, the report mentions: 24 reported incidents of badger poisoning but only five were confirmed after analysis of the remains; 26 reports of badgers being shot but only seven were confirmed as illegal actions; and 13 incidents of traps being found that had been set to catch foxes. What evidence is there for including all of these reports as incidents of badger persecution?
'It goes without saying that even one incident of illegal killing of a badger, or any other species is one too many. As I said, the NFU does not condone any form of wildlife crime or persecution and we agree that action should be taken against anyone who is found to have committed such a crime. We support moves to find a better way to accurately record wildlife crime nationally so we can get a much clearer picture of the size and scope of the problem. But, until that happens, opinions, assumptions and unsubstantiated reports should not be passed off as “facts” to criminalise an entire industry. As someone who has repeatedly advocated the use of facts not fiction on this issue, I would have thought you would have agreed with this.
'To put things in some context, the House of Commons was told last July that the number of prosecutions carried out for badger persecution under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 fell from 43 in the 2011/12 financial year to 31 in 2013/14. The answer also showed that the number of people charged with wilfully killing a badger fell from nine to zero over the same period. There is no indication in the answer of who these people were and what their occupation was.
'Therefore it is grossly inaccurate for you to claim that farmers are increasingly carrying out illegal persecution of badgers. In a recent television interview, you said: “Now we are seeing, I think, farmers and landowners and gamekeepers increasingly killing badgers illegally as well”. The key words here are “I think”. It’s an opinion, not backed up by any figures or facts in the interview. It’s also something which farmers, quite rightly, would consider to be an offensive statement.
'As farmers our aim is to get rid of bovine TB. Many dairy and beef farmers are enduring ongoing stress and misery because of the impact this disease is having on them, their animals and their farms. Badger culling is part of a wider strategy to get England to be TB free. Demonising the entire farming industry simply because you disagree with the policy is appalling.