THE Princess Royal has injected new controversy into the debate on the badger cull, calling for them to be gassed in their setts.
Her intervention, in an interview with BBC’s Countryfile programme to be screened tonight, was welcomed by some farmers but opposed by groups campaigning against the trial cull across Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, and Somerset.
“If we want to control badgers the most humane way of doing it is to gas them,” she said in a preview of the programme.
“It is extremely disappointing that a prominent member of the Royal Family should endorse the gassing of a supposedly protected indigenous wild animal,” said Rosie Woodroffe, of the Zoological Society.
The National Farmers’ Union, which called for the cull to see what effect it has on bovine tuberculosis, said it does not condone illegal activity, and Ian Johnson, south west spokesman for the NFU, added: “The Princess Royal is right to raise the issue of animal welfare and right to express concerns that something needs to be done, but in the current climate and with the law as it is, gassing is not an option.”
The Princess, a former British eventing champion who also admits on the programme to having eaten and enjoyed horse meat, says of badger culling that most people ‘will tell you that gas is a much nicer way of doing it, if that’s not a silly expression’.
She explained: “Because of the way it works. And how it works is that you go to sleep, basically.”
Echoing in part the Independent Expert’s Panel report into the shooting of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which came out on Thursday, the Princess said: “I don’t believe shooting was ever a particularly good way of dealing with it.”
But she added that the feared spread of TB to cattle was not the only reason to cull badgers, which she said were getting out of control in some areas, causing problems for other species such as hedgehogs, bees and ground-nesting birds.
She told the programme: “Even if you took the cattle completely out of this debate... from a conservation issue alone, you’d have to say there are too many badgers. A bigger growth in the badger population is not good for the balance of conservation anyway.”
The Princess, who has farmed at her Gatcombe estate in near Stroud for nearly 40 years, became chancellor of agriculture college Harper Adams University, based near Newport, Shropshire, last year.