Is the cull out of control?Apr 14 2001

By Rhodri Evans and Clive Betts,

The Western Mail

This is the picture which will shock all Wales, of a white-clad marksman apparently shooting at sheep and lambs in a Monmouthshire field.

The image has raised questions about the way the cull of animals and the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis is being conducted.

It seems that not all the marks-man's targets were dispatched with a single shot. In a sequence of events after this picture was taken he was seen to close in on one sheep. He appeared to grab the animal to finish it off as his gun repeatedly jammed.

A couple whose home overlooks the field in the village of Gilwern, near Abergavenny, were so appalled they decided to record the killings on camera.

Farmer Barrie Clayton, owner of the sheep, said last night that he was disgusted at what had happened.

"The way they appear to have killed them is totally wrong," he said.

Plaid Cymru agriculture spokesman Elin Jones said, "It is completely irresponsible for the slaughtering to be taking place in any way which is not completely within the best animal-welfare practice and regulations."

"Carwyn Jones needs to look at how this is being handled and who is doing the work for him in various places. People running around fields, apparently taking potshots, is probably not an example of the best way to do the job."

Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones said, "I am clearly very concerned about what I have heard and seen. Monmouthshire County Council is the responsible body and must urgently investigate the circumstances and make available, at the earliest possible opportunity, its report into the matter."

A Maff spokesman said any breaches of the slaughter regulations would be treated seriously. The video footage is being studied by the RSPCA to decide if the shootings constitute a case of animal cruelty.

There were growing calls yesterday for a special meeting of the National Assembly's environment committee after the Environment Agency admitted that problems may exist with the Mynydd Epynt dumping site for culled farm stock.

The agency said it had called for the preparation of a full assessment on the suitability of a dumping site which was already in use.

Permission for the Army firing ranges to be used was given on the basis of a preliminary assessment by the agency that the site was "suitable from a consideration of its impact on groundwater". But ammonia was then found in a safety borehole, which resulted in orders being given for the existing burial trench to be lined with a heavy plastic membrane.

An senior Assembly source said agency officials were running around on the site yesterday "like headless chickens".

Disposal of carcasses has been halted over this weekend for the site work to be undertaken.

Revelations that everything is not going quite as planned mean the chairman of the environment committee, Richard Edwards, Labour AM for Preseli Pembrokeshire, will find it difficult to resist the pressures from within his committee to bring members back during the Easter break.

Meanwhile, First Minister Rhodri Morgan is coming under strong pressure to sack Huw Lewis as Deputy Minister for Education because of the viciousness of his attack on Mr Jones on Thursday.

Referring to Mr Jones giving permission for welfare-culled animals to be dumped at the Trecatti landfill site above Dowlais, the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM said, "The handling of this whole business has been a shambles."