“She is completely wrong,” RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles told RadioTimes.com. “Sometimes she comes out with statements that may seem to be a bit left-field but do have a kernel of truth. But in this respect I am afraid what she is saying doesn’t have any validity at all. There is nobody who would touch the idea with a bargepole.”
The Princess Royal, whose mother is patron of the RSPCA, wades into the debate about culling badgers in a wide-ranging interview with BBC1’s Countryfile on Sunday, details of which have just been released. In particular she says that gassing, which has been illegal for more than 30 years, should be reintroduced.
Although banned because animals are thought to have suffered before dying, she claims it’s the most humane form of killing.
“I don’t believe shooting was ever a particularly good way of dealing with it,” she tells Countryfile presenter Tom Heap. “Gas is a much nicer way of doing it – if that’s not a silly expression – because of the way it works. And how it works is that you go to sleep basically.”
But the RSPCA says gassing is indiscriminate and slow-acting. “It is not humane and it is not effective,” says Bowles.
“The scientists, the Government and the public all say that. Badgers live in deep underground setts and that means it is very difficult to get the right amount of gas into all parts of the sett and therefore you get badgers dying very, very slowly or not dying at all. It’s ineffective, cruel and completely outmoded.”
The Princess’s comments come after devastating losses among her own cattle herds at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire where she has farmed for nearly 40 years. A third of her White Park and Highland cattle have had to be slaughtered in the last two years after contracting bovine TB, a disease passed on by badgers.
“It’s more than deeply frustrating, it’s really upsetting,” she says. “When you’re struggling to keep the numbers going anyway it’s really undermining your whole process.”
Asked whether she believes there’s too much sentimentality surrounding badgers she says: “I think we’re too single issue about a lot of things. If there are a lot of badgers you’re going to have no hedgehogs, probably no wild bees and fewer ground nesting birds.
“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.”
During the interview she also talks about increasing the number of houses in rural communities, the farming ambitions of her nephew Prince William and how eating horse meat could help end the problem created by an estimated 8,000 unwanted horses in the UK.
“An awful lot of the abandonments are because they (the owners) don’t perceive there to be any value in the animals. But the meat trade adds value so there is some point in keeping it healthy.”
And has she eaten horse, presenter Tom Heap asks her? “Oh certainly. (It was) very good actually.”
The interview can be seen this Sunday on Countryfile, BBC1 at 7pm