Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Badger debate

The debate about badgers and tuberculosis in cattle continues to polarise opinion, not least because of the perception that the politicians have largely ignored the body politic. Arguments rage about whether the cull will work, whether the economics make sense or a vaccination programme offer a workable alternative. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of these arguments, or indeed of the views held on culling badgers, the whole debate comes down to a single question. Morally, do we have the right to dominion over the other creatures with which we share the countryside?

You might assume that the answer to such a question is, by default, ‘yes’. After all, our activities have shaped the landscape and its wildlife to meet our needs over many generations and we rarely give any thought to the consequences of everyday decisions about the food on our plates, the objects in our homes or the nature of our commute to work. We manage and exploit the land for our needs, so why should it be any different when it comes to badgers and cattle? I suspect that we view badgers differently because they are large, handsome animals, whose character we appreciate and identify with. Badgers appear in wildlife documentaries, provide literary characters and remain one of the most widely recognised of Britain’s animals. Because of this they have our affections and, as a consequence, our sympathy. Were the debate to involve something rather smaller, less attractive and, most likely, invertebrate in nature, then I suspect that we would give it very little thought.

All of us make decisions every day that mean life or death for some other creature but we probably do not stop long enough to consider this. The debate over badgers and cattle brings the question of our interactions with other creatures into focus; it should make us question how we behave more widely. How many of the people taking a stand against the cull take a rolled-up newspaper to a wasp, spray their garden plants with insecticides or trap the mice that enter their shed or garage? We should look at our dealings with the natural world, particularly those where we perceive it to intrude into our activities, and ask ourselves whether we should instead accept that we cannot have things all our own way.

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