Wales politics

No cull of badgers in Wales during scientific review

Controversial plans for a badger cull in west Wales have been put on hold while a review is carried out.

The Labour-run Welsh Government says an independent panel of experts will examine the science involved.

The cull had been part of an attempt by the previous Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government to combat bovine TB.

But Environment Minister John Griffiths said there would be no cull while the panel carried out its work.

The Labour-Plaid coalition had planned the cull alongside other measures to control TB in cattle in an area of north Pembrokeshire - the so-called Intensive Action Area.

The cull was revived in March, eight months after the coalition was forced to shelve the proposal following a legal challenge by the Badger Trust.

Labour, which is now governing alone, promised a "science-led" approach towards bovine TB in its manifesto for May's assembly election.

In a statement to AMs, Mr Griffiths said an independent panel of experts will be appointed by chief scientific adviser Professor John Harries to review the evidence for eradicating bovine TB. A report is expected in the autumn.

The minister's announcement will please wildlife groups who have opposed the cull, but will disappoint farming unions who urged Mr Griffiths to stick to the policy of his Plaid predecessor, former Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.

Mr Griffiths denied a claim from Plaid that he was kicking the issue into the long grass. He said the Welsh Government was "fully committed to eradicating bovine TB" and recognised the impact of the disease on farming.

'Fully committed'

He added: "What happens after the review will depend on what report is delivered and what the verdict is."

More than £12m was paid in compensation to farmers last year and about 10% of cattle farms in Wales are under movement restrictions because of TB.

"This impact should not and can not be sustained and so as a government we are committed to the eradication of bovine TB in Wales," Mr Griffiths said.

A regime of cattle surveillance and controls will continue during the review, including additional controls introduced in the action area in May last year.

Mr Griffiths told AMs it was too early to say whether positive signs of a reduction in bovine TB in recent months were part of a long-term trend.

Plaid AM Ms Jones said his statement was a "slap in the face" for farmers, adding: "In your first act you've let farmers down."

Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman Antoinette Sandbach said: "There is no question that this is a miserable day for our farmers.

'Legally flawed'

"By effectively shelving the pilot cull, the Welsh Labour Government has cruelly betrayed the farming industry right across Wales."

The Badger Trust said it maintained that the evidence behind the original decision to cull was "legally flawed and was likely to have been quashed by the High Court on judicial review".

But the trust welcomed a "rigorous review" of the cull and said it was "determined to take whatever legal steps are required to safeguard this protected species against unjustified slaughter". It said it hoped a judicial review of the cull could now be avoided.

Farmers' Union of Wales TB spokesman Brian Walters said culling was the only tried and tested way of reducing TB in cattle in places where the disease is present in badgers.

"We cannot keep stalling matters in order to avoid difficult decisions in relation to culling badgers," he said.

The RSPCA said it hoped the announcement was the first step towards the Welsh Government reversing the plans altogether.

Colin Booty, senior scientist for the charity, said: "Our position on this is extremely clear - we are firmly opposed to any plans for a widespread cull."

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