Badgers or broadband?
What's the worst job in the world? Running the @DefraGovUk twitter account probably shades being in BT's complaints team. Whoever the hapless soul is, he/she is currently the subject of repeated abuse on the subject of badgers.
Let's get this clear; this blog isn't about badgers. I have a good deal of sympathy with both sides in the argument - by which I mean the farming lobby and conservationists, in shorthand - and no easy answer. I wanted to write about a sense of proportion and the quality of this kind of debate in contemporary media. In these ways the badger cull slanging match is very typical.
Like @DefraGovUk, most of the badger folk on social media are anonymous
, which is slightly creepy for a start. Of course, activists claim they need to be because otherwise they'll end up on a government database. It's handy, though, you've got to admit. You can have multiple online personae and artifically amplify your importance by "following" them on social media. Not, of course, that's what's going on...
Nor is it very helpful to the anti-cull lobby to argue like people in a Monty Python sketch
. I have never personally responded well to anyone who starts talking to me by saying "What a presumptious & ignorant twat...".
Referring to the cull like it was genocide is equally unhelpful. Some might say pretty offensive. If I had lost relatives in Cambodia I might feel sensitive about rolling Somerset pastures being described as "the killing fields". Some sense of perspective
would be handy, however totemic badgers are.* All the conservation activists I know have badgers as their number one priority, as does the Press. Well, er... there's a lot else going on
, not least the debate on Biodiversity offsetting, which is much more significant.
I also get the sense that the whole issue has opened the town and country
split again. Badgers are either cute furry creatures out of Wind of the Willows if you're in North Islington, or apex predators digging up veg patches and bumblebee nests and killing hedgehogs and chickens in South Somerset. The truth rarely outs, as Tim Hounsome, one of the few people who actually knows anything about badgers, often points out.
And that's the problem. As usual, there doesn't seem to be enough science available to make a rational, balanced decision. There's just enough for people not to. It turns out we don't even know how many badgers there are in the UK; their numbers have been increasing since they were protected in 1973 but are there really 1 million
out there (which sounds bonkers to me) or as few as 300,000? Is 300,000 a lot historically? Er...
*It's not coincidental that they're the symbol of the Wildlife Trusts