The highly anticipated first cabinet re-shuffle of the Coalition Government took place yesterday with a number of new appointments causing concern to animal lovers.

The beleaguered Caroline Spelman, the woman at the head of plans to cull badgers and notorious ‘U-turner’ on poorly thought out Government policy, has been ousted as Secretary of State for Defra.  The move comes at the end of a year which saw embarrassing backtracking for Defra on issues such as the forestry sell-off and the planned killing of buzzards to protect game birds.

While such news would normally be greeted with delight, her replacement, Owen Paterson MP, has a record on the environment that raises serious questions about his impartiality on green issues and shows a distinctive shift away from Cameron’s 2010 promise for the ‘greenest government ever’.  Known for his support for scrapping energy subsidies, his opposition to renewable energy and for pushing airport expansion and economic growth at all costs, the placement of this pro-cull MP at the helm of Defra could signal disaster for English badgers.

Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, notorious for angering dairy farmers by admitting that he did not know the price of milk, was also axed in the re-shuffle, losing his position to rural Lib Dem MP David Heath.  While broadly supported by the farming community, Paice’s support of the badger cull made him deeply unpopular with animal lovers across the country, many of whom viewed his dogmatic support of the NFU as detrimental to wildlife.  It remains uncertain what Heath will bring to the role.

Andrew Plumbly, Executive Director of Network for Animals, said; “The latest cabinet re-shuffle poses a serious threat to British wildlife as the Government lurches significantly to the right.  It can be seen as no coincidence that a pro-cull MP has been placed at the head of Defra to ensure the ill-conceived plans to cull badgers with high velocity rifles as they roam at night are forced through at all costs.”

Network for Animals are urging supporters to write to Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP and ask him not to use his position at Defra to push through a misguided policy at the expense of English badgers and to visit our campaign site Shooting in the Dark for more information on the badger cull.