Owen Paterson has been sacked from the post of DEFRA secretary and looks set to be replaced by south west Norfolk MP Liz Truss.
The North Shropshire MP, a proponent of the badger cull, was ironically culled himself on Monday night (14 July) in prime minister David Cameron’s last planned Cabinet reshuffle before the general election in 2015.
Mr Paterson, who has repeatedly insisted that culling badgers is necessary to eradicate bovine TB in this country, was sacked in a brutal reshuffle of “male, pale and stale” Cabinet members.
His dismissal will inevitably raise questions over whether the second year of pilot culling – due to start this summer in Somerset and Gloucestershire – will go ahead as planned.
However, farmers will take heart from the fact that Ms Truss comes from a rural consituency and has voted in favour of the badger cull on two of the occasions it has been debated in the House of Commons.
Opponents of the badger cull have celebrated the removal of Mr Paterson accusing him of “willfully ignoring” independent scientific evidence, which found that year one of the pilot culls were both ineffective and inhumane. Environment campaigners have also criticised Mr Paterson for his failure to take on climate change.
However, Mr Paterson, was seen as a “friend of farmers” for his forthright views on culling and other countryside issues – despite the criticism it brought him.
Somerset farmer and floods victim James Winslade said Mr Cameron had “made a bad mistake” by sacking Mr Paterson and will “lose support from farmers”.
The NFU also said losing Mr Paterson was a huge loss – both to the countryside and to farmers.
While Mr Paterson’s outspoken argument for GM crops has faced stiff resistance from those opposed to the technology, it won him support from many in the farming community. He has also been praised for overseeing a workable implementation of EU common agricultural policy in England.
But his response to the winter floods was ridiculed when he turned up in Somerset at the height of the floods without any wellies. His department has also been seriously rebuked for not investing enough funding in flood defences.
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, said on Monday night: “David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot – he’s the worst environment secretary the UK has had for decades.
“Mr Paterson has wilfully ignored scientific evidence on climate change, championed pesticide firms instead of bees and massively underinvested in flood defences, leaving thousands of households at risk of future flooding.
“His successor must show they are serious about safeguarding Britain’s environment and protecting the nation from the growing threat of global climate change.”
Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and policy advisor for animal welfare charity Care for the Wild, said Mr Paterson had “scored too many own goals” and “had to be moved off the pitch”.
He added: “Owen Paterson has strong links to the Countryside Alliance and landowning and hunting interests, and he stubbornly threw himself behind the badger culling policy in the face of overwhelming expert scientific opinion that said that a cull would make no meaningful contribution to reducing bovine TB.
“So now his lasting legacy will be the badger cull, which has been an utter failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.
“Mr Paterson’s leadership has caused lasting damage to the reputation of Defra, Natural England and the farming industry, and the new Defra secretary of state cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of their predecessor.
“They must start by bringing an immediate halt to the disastrous badger cull and reaching out to wildlife protection and conservation groups to restore confidence in the reputation of Defra for protecting – not destroying – wildlife.”