I've always had a lot of time for Ceredigion's Plaid Cymru AM, Elin Jones. During my period as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee up to the last Assembly Election, she was a very good colleague. OK, I know she talked some tosh about 'Independence' at Plaid's recent Spring Conference, but she's proving to be a sure-footed Rural Affairs Minister. Yesterday, she told us that she is going to sanction the slaughter of a lot of badgers. This was a difficult and controversial decision to take. But she took it. Elin Jones has assured us that she intends to 'walk the walk' while her Labour and Liberal Democrat predecessors would only 'talk the talk'. Love badgers as much as I do, I believe she has taken the correct decision.
The present truly disastrous mess cannot continue. Over the last 10 years, the number of cattle slaughtered as a result of Bovine Tb in Wales alone has increased 10 fold to almost 8,000 in 2007. Over the last 7 years, the cost of compensation to farmers has increased 8 fold to over £15 million in 2007/08. 16% of Welsh farms are currently under movement restrictions, a financial and human disaster which devastates the lives and businesses of the farming families involved. The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales says that the disease is out of control. It has to be tackled. It should have been tackled a long time ago.
Of course, all we have so far is a decision in principle. Next step is to decide where the one 'intensive treatment area' is going to be. Over recent years I've consistently argued that it must be only one area, and a big enough area to be meaningful. It should have as much 'natural' boundary as possible and be a 'hotspot' of infection. It always seemed to point to the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire area where the sea creates much of the boundary. I recall making this argument in Montgomeryshire which local farmers believed should be considered for the pilot cull.
I hate the thought of slaughtering wildlife for no reason - but I'm not a sentimentalist either. The only slight doubt in my mind is that I've never seen cast iron evidence that slaughtering badgers will succeed - so I'm against extending the slaughter programme to any other areas until there is definitive evidence from this first pilot scheme. I suspect that will it will be years until we have the proof we need. I anticipate Elin Jones being heavily criticised for her decision by wildlife groups, and I've already heard articulate speakers condemning her on the media. Daresay I'll be criticised for giving her my full support. All I can say is that I have a deep commitment to the welfare of wildlife, and I've no reason to believe that Elin doesn't share it. I believe in the longer run, yesterday's decision will be good news for badgers as well as for the livestock industry.
NOTE - I will check over this post and edit it when I'm home later tonight.