The National Trust will not oppose the killing of badgers on its Westcountry properties, if a cull of diseased animals is allowed by the Government.
The trust has updated its stance on a cull, having previously stated that its preferences for dealing with the spread of bovine tuberculosis would be cattle-to-cattle controls and vaccination.
But in an new statement this week, which could prove unpopular among elements of its three-and-a-half million members, the National Trust said it would not object to a cull on its tenanted farms and other land, provided all the correct checks and balances were in place. But the trust still stressed that badger vaccination should be used wherever and whenever possible.
The statement said: “If the criteria for a successful cull can be met, and it is legal and carried out to the highest possible welfare standards as part of a package of measures that includes more rigorous approaches to reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission, then we would not object to culls taking place in areas that include our land, where it is shown all other routes have been explored.”
It added: “We accept there is no point addressing cattle-to- cattle transmission without also addressing the wildlife reservoir of bovine TB. We feel strongly that this should be done as part of a comprehensive package of measures.”
The Government has ordered a three-month consultation on what to do about the steady spread of bovine TB throughout cattle herds in various areas, notably the South West, and that will run until the end of the year.
Once all the evidence has been collated, a decision on a way forward is likely to be announced in the early spring, but it would not necessarily involve the culling of sick badgers. Culling could be one of the options, using cage traps and shooting.
Farming organisations have urged their members to respond positively to the consultation paper and encourage a cull in hot-spot areas, where many cattle herds are subject to prolonged movement restrictions having lost animals that proved positive to TB tests.
The National Trust, which claims to be “the guardian of the nation’s heritage”, is a major landowner in the Westcountry.
In particular, it is the largest landowner on Exmoor, where it is the guardian of 7,155 hectares of moorland, woodland and mixed farm holdings.
Exmoor is one of the four hotspot areas in the Westcountry where 1,700 farmers have signed up for licences applying to cull sick badgers, should the cull go ahead.
The others include North Cornwall and West Devon, West Penwith and the South Hams, all of which contain well-known National Trust properties, coastline and farms.