Did you know that the badger is one of the most charismatic creatures in our countryside? It says so on an advisory leaflet produced by Scottish Natural Heritage called ‘Badgers And The Law’.
The document doesn’t make clear which aspect of badgers is particularly charismatic. Perhaps it’s that they are prone to collapsing during evangelical church services and babbling in strange tongues. Or perhaps it’s that with their rakish stripes and their dusk-till-dawn social hours they’re widely known to be the life and soul of every party.
But the more likely explanation, I fear, is that the author of those words is doing what psychologists call ‘projecting’. Probably he’s read Wind In The Willows, seen a few episodes of Autumnwatch, bought one or two greetings cards with jolly, waistcoat-wearing Mr Brock characters on them and formed his judgment accordingly: badgers are more than just badgers, they’re like humans in black and white fur, only nicer than humans obviously because they’d never dream of using nuclear weapons or turning a gay couple away from a B&B or destroying the planet through their wanton selfishness and greed.
Look, for the record — and more importantly, for the benefit of any homicidal animal rights nutcases reading this — I too like badgers. But I also like hedgehogs, lapwings, dairy cattle and human beings. And I really can’t see why, just because Mr Brock has got an engaging stripy face and a poodle-haired guitarist from a high-camp 1970s rock band really rates him, he deserves special protection rights which trump those of all his competitors in the ecosystem.
One of the more dangerous misconceptions of the environmental movement is the notion — plucked from the ether by influential ecologists such as Howard T. and Eugene Odum, and based on no evidence whatsoever — that the natural world is a stable system. Freed from man’s unwelcome intrusion, the theory goes, nature will return to a state of perfect balance.
You only have to look at the current badger problem to realise this is nonsense. Apart from the Ford Mondeo the badger has no natural predator, so since in the early 1980s legislation made it illegal to kill badgers, their population has rocketed to unsustainable levels. The consequences have been disastrous: TB in both badgers and cattle has soared; hedgehog and ground-nesting bird populations have been devastated; farmers’ livelihoods have been destroyed; vast sums of taxpayers’ money — the figure last year was £100 million — have been squandered; and Britain is now at risk of having an EU ban on all its beef and dairy exports, at a cost to the economy of more than £2 billion a year.
So what to do? For the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson — who, having tabled a record 600 parliamentary questions on the subject, knows and understands more than the rest of the Commons put together — the answer’s obvious. He’s seen the evidence from the US and Donegal (which in short space effected a 96 per cent reduction in bovine TB): culls work. Try telling that, though, to Bill Oddie, Brian May and all the rest of the ragbag of bleeding-heart celebs, eco-terrorists, opportunist politicians, left-liberal media outfits and activist scientists opposing the ban. Sure, they’ve managed to come up with any number of superficially plausible ‘scientific’ reasons as to why culls don’t work. But as we’ve seen with ‘climate change’, if you’ve decided in advance what your conclusion is, it’s amazing how easy it is to manipulate the ‘evidence’ into saying whatever it is you’d like it to say.
No: the real reason for the opposition to the badger cull is ideological, not scientific. Partly it comes from mawkish sentiment, partly from the green movement’s instinctive loathing of any form of capitalist enterprise (even dairy farming), and partly from its ingrained, self-hating misanthropy.
Once, in the days before Christianity was replaced by Gaia-worship, we instinctively understood that the natural world was man’s dominion. But then came a shift — noted by the economist Julian Simon — in scientific textbooks. In old ones, birds were evaluated according to their benefits for humanity generally and farmers in particular; in newer ones, mankind was evaluated for its effects on birds. Where before the human species had been enjoined to ‘be fruitful and multiply’, now it was little more than a ‘cancer for nature’.
To bunny-huggers schooled in the relativist traditions of the modern environmental religion, this might make superficial sense: why should the life of a badger be considered any less valuable and meaningful than that of a dairy farmer? But even if you accept this on an intellectual level, it simply doesn’t work on a practical one. For millennia, at least since the days when man developed the skill to clear trees and work the land, the natural world has been an artificial construct.
Without man’s intervention, forests grow spindly and overcrowded, weeds and pests proliferate, top predators run riot, biodiversity diminishes, habitats shrink, variety is lost, species weaken and grow more vulnerable to any number of vile diseases. I’ve little doubt that, given the opportunity, Mr Brock would most heartily agree with me. ‘Give me a nice peaceful death, humanely gassed in my sett, any day, than a slow, painful demise, shivering and emaciated from tuberculosis.’ Unfortunately, though, I can’t prove this because unlike the charismatic, waistcoat-wearing, stripy-faced fellow in Brian May’s imagination, Mr Brock isn’t an honorary human. He’s just a badger.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 3 November 2012