“I love Mr. Badger, his coat is so warm,
And if I don’t hurt him, he’ll do me no harm”.
Walt Disney (Bamby) and Kenneth Grahame (Ratty & Mole) have a great deal to answer for, not least generations of English folk with an absurdly romanticised view of animals. Badgers and foxes are just little human beings who happen to be four-legged and furry, but underneath they are just like us. But of course in reality badgers are vicious, aggressive, flea-ridden, and a reservoir of bovine TB infection. They poop on farmers’ fields, and the next thing is that the farmer’s herd fails a TB inspection, with all the heartache and financial destruction which that causes. Badgers are, in a word, vermin, however pretty they look in pictures.
So I support the government’s plans for a badger cull, and I hope it won’t chicken out and U-turn at the last moment. Let’s be clear. I don’t want to exterminate badgers. A countryside without badgers (or lacking any of our larger wild mammals) would be deeply impoverished. But in a crowded and intensively farmed island like ours, we need a balance, and right now with bovine TB rampant and threatening very serious damage to our dairy industry, the balance has been lost, and needs to be re-established.
I’ve always been a great admirer of Matt’s cartoons in the Daily Telegraph, and of his skill at taking two seemingly unrelated ideas and making a humorous juxtaposition. Unfortunately I can’t draw, but one morning last week I came upon two unrelated ideas that seemed to me fairly comical when placed side by side. Shaving bleary-eyed in Brussels at 6:15 a.m., I noticed the words “Real badger bristle” on my shaving brush. And having the badger cull on my mind, I Tweeted “And another good reason for a badger cull. It should bring down the exorbitant price of shaving brushes”.
Not, perhaps, the joke of the century, but all the people I’ve mentioned it to so far have laughed. Not so, however, the monstrous regiment of humourless, po-faced bunny-huggers and animal rights vigilantes.
Unable to see a joke at any price, one wrote to me regretting that the government would say such a thing. I had to explain that the comment was my own, and that I’m not a member of the government. The apoplectic David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “This is just contemptible and outrageous. He doesn’t even realise that firms in Britain import the hair from China.”
So just for the record, Mr. Williams. Of course I know that badger hair used in shaving brushes is imported. Of course I know that in real life there is no connection between the proposed badger cull and the price of shaving brushes. This was a joke. J-O-K-E. Humour. Roll-about-in-the-aisles. Geddit? And if you don’t find it amusing, Mr. Williams — lots of other people did. So lighten up a bit.
It’s a sad comment on our times that a lighthearted remark can’t be taken at face value, but must generate synthetic indignation from people determined not to understand it. Sad also that stories about badgers, or Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or flags upside-down, or the threat to our fish’n’chips, will always make the media, whereas stories about the real threats posed by the EU to our prosperity and our freedom are much harder to place.
And it’s a pity that while these animal rights zealots are concerned for the welfare of vermin, they seem to have no concern whatever for the welfare of cows, of our national dairy herd, our farmers, or our balance of payments — or any concern for the public who enjoy the milk and cream and cheese that the dairy industry supplies.
One or two more rational correspondents drew my attention to the view of those scientists who believe that a localised cull would do more harm than good. But then other scientists take the view that a properly organised and managed cull is the best way to curb bovine TB. (Just as with climate change, there’s a real scientific debate). I’m no expert on bovine TB, but I think this is a case where I’m more inclined to respect the view of the farmers whose herds and livelihoods are at risk. Sometimes the man with mud on his boots has a clearer idea than the scientist in the lab.