Your badger cull questions answered
These questions are the most frequently asked questions about the badger cull and bovine TB.
Questions are collated directly from groups, supporters, followers and the wider public.
Answers are collated by experts in the Badger Trust team.
What is badger culling?
The English badger culling policy is for cull companies to shoot badgers within a given area in order to reduce bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. The government’s stated aim is to remove between 70 and 90 percent of badgers in each cull area and across most of the southwest of the UK (except where culling is in low risk areas, where there is no upper limit).
Why are badgers culled?
Badger Trust believes the cull is political. Without culling badgers, Badger Trust does not believe that the farming lobby would have accepted the significant but vital changes to cattle-based measures required to curb bTB.
The badger cull is not supported by either scientific or economic evidence.
When was badger culling introduced?
Badgers have been killed in some form since the 1970s when the first badger was noted to have the disease. In the 1970s, badgers were gassed in the Thornbury trials and later ( between 1998-2007) the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) was carried out. This was a huge trial killing 11,000 badgers and was designed to answer the question over the value of culling badgers with respect to reducing bovine TB in cattle. The latest culling policy began in 2012 and the first culls took place in 2013.
Where are the badger cull areas?
Badger culling is undertaken in 61 areas within the counties of Avon, Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. (2021).
61 areas of cull zones cover nearly 25% of England’s entire land area across 20 counties stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria.
England is divided into three risk levels; high risk (HRA), low risk (LRA) and edge areas (between the two).
When is badger culling allowed to take place?
Each intensive cull licence has start and end dates and should last no more than 6 weeks each year. However, licensed badger culling is legal between 1st June and 31st November. The start and end dates are not usually made public.
Supplementary culling is permitted from 1st June until 31st January. Badger culling is not permitted during the following periods:
1 December to 31 May for cage trapping and shooting
1 February to 31 May for controlled shooting
Is badger culling legal?
Badger culling is legal under the government’s policy to control the spread of bovine TB as part of its strategy for achieving bovine TB free status for England. Each cull zone must have a licence and culling or killing badgers outside that area is illegal. Cull areas are not made public, so it is still important to report any badger that appears to have been killed deliberately to the police and Badger Trust.
How is badger culling licensed?
Badger Disease Control Licence (also known as Intensive cull licence): required where culling is to take place for the first time in the High Risk or Edge Area of England. A farmer-led company must apply to Natural England for this licence.
Low Risk Area Badger Disease Control Licence: required where culling is to take place in a zone of the Low Risk Area (LRA), specifically by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, where there is evidence of bTB infection in badgers.
Supplementary Cull Licence: required where culling is to take place, ostensibly to prevent the recovery of the badger population following the completion of intensive culling (four years of culling under the Badger Disease Control Licence). A farmer-led company must apply to Natural England for this licence.
How many badgers have been killed under cull licences?
Between 2013 and 2020 a total of 143,241 badgers were killed under government cull licences. Culling is licensed in 61 areas of England across 20 counties under both four year cull licences and supplementary cull licences (2021).
How many new cull licences were issued in 2021?
The government agency, Natural England, has issued 61 cull licences in total. This includes:
Ten new supplementary cull licences in May 2021 (the maximum allowed)
Seven new intensive cull licences in August 2021
Based on maximum kill numbers, this could result in over 75,000 more badgers being killed in 2021 taking the total killed since 2013 to over 200,000.
Do cattle spread bTB to each other?
Over 94% of bTB infections in cattle are a result of cow-to-cow infection. This is well recognised and is not a contested figure among vets, scientists, or within Defra.
Britain has one of the most intensive livestock industries in Europe with hundreds of thousands of cattle kept indoors in cramped damp conditions for over six months a year spreading bovine TB across herds.
Due to the stress of their environment the immune systems of cattle are placed under pressure making them more susceptible to bovine TB and other diseases.
Hundreds of thousands of cattle are regularly moved across the country every year with poor biosecurity and movement controls, which further spreads bovine TB.
Bovine TB outbreaks in Cumbria and the Isle of Skye in 2018 were found by Defra to have originated from cattle moved into these areas from Northern Ireland.
Do badgers get bTB from cattle?
Bovine TB is largely spread cow-to-cow between cattle within intensive dairy and beef production systems. It spills over into the wider environment as a form of industrial pollution through faeces and slurry soil, water, organisms and infecting both wild and domestic animals.
Based on Defra monitoring, bovine TB is found in a wide variety of species including badgers, deer, foxes, rats, mice, alpacas, sheep, dogs and cats. It has even been found in single celled organisms.
Do badgers spread bovine TB to cattle?
Cattle spread bovine TB to other cattle in over 94% of all cases. Of the rest, some of the infection arises from wildlife and some from ‘unknown sources’. There is a huge amount of scientific evidence and field studies to show that the vast majority of bTB infection in cattle is a result of cow-to-cow infection.
Bovine TB is a zoonotic disease, this means it can be passed between different species. Badgers can spread bTB, as can any other mammal. Yet there is little evidence that badgers can easily pass back bTB to cattle.
The Central Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge carried out field experiments in the 1970s placing bTB infected badgers in enclosed pens with calves. Over time some of the calves in the experiment did become infected with bTB, but this took many months and the scientists undertaking the experiment accepted it was flawed as it did not replicate conditions in the natural environment.
Satellite tracking collar monitoring of badger movements in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has found that they largely avoid cattle in pasture areas or farmyards, which significantly reduces the potential for disease transmission routes.
How widespread is bTB infection of badgers?
The vast majority of badgers killed as a result of the cull policy to date will have been bTB free and their removal will have no impact on lowering bTB in cattle.
Of 102,349 badgers killed under cull licences 2013-2019, just over 900 were subject to post mortems and tests for bovine TB. Of this number less than 5% were found to have bovine TB to a degree where they posed a risk of infecting other badgers or possibly cattle.
Is bovine TB a risk to human health?
Not under the conditions most of us live, no.
Although bovine TB is a zoonotic disease that can spread from animals to humans. It was a significant human health risk in the late 19th and early 20th century, but pasteurisation of milk and improved hygiene controls in slaughterhouses has resulted in very few people being infected today.
Every year a small number of people do become infected with bovine TB, largely due to people consuming raw meat or unpasteurised milk. A small number of infections have occurred in vet surgeries due to bTB infected dogs or cats, or in slaughterhouses due to the handling of bTB infected meat.
Can badgers infect humans with bTB?
There have been no documented cases of a badger infecting a human with bTB in Britain.
How are badgers culled?
Natural England licences two methods for cull contractors to kill badgers under cull licences:
Controlled shooting, which allows cull contractors to shoot badgers at night from a distance with a high powered rifle
Cage trap and shooting, which allows cull contractors to trap badgers in cages at night to be killed the following morning in the cage using a shotgun or rifle
The Independent Expert Panel (IEMP), formed to monitor the efficacy and humaneness of the badger cull during its first two years, found that free shooting was inhumane due to the length of time badgers could take to die*. The IEMP reported that, in the first year of the cull, between 6.4% and 18% of badgers shot took over five minutes to die of bullet wounds, blood loss and organ failure. The IEMP made a number of key recommendations to improve the humaneness of the culling operations, but the IEMP was disbanded in 2014 preventing any further independent oversight of the cull policy.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has since withdrawn its support for this method.
*Pilot Badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire Report by the Independent Expert Panel, 2014
Who carries out badger culling?
Badger culling is undertaken under four year licences by private cull contractors. Contractors are usually local farmers and their regular contractors.
Badger culling under supplementary cull licences can also be carried out by farmers and landowners.
How are cull contractors trained and monitored?
All persons carrying out badger culling are required to demonstrate a level of competence appropriate to the culling method being licensed and must complete a training course approved by the government.
All landowners must permit Natural England to access their land for compliance monitoring. However, the vast majority of badgers are killed without any monitoring at all. Although the cull has been significantly expanded since 2014, the level of monitoring by Natural England field operatives has continued to decline (in 2020 this was just 0.58% of all shooting events).
Is the level of training and monitoring of cull contractors adequate for animal welfare purposes?
The vast majority of badgers are killed without any monitoring at all. Since 2014, the cull has been significantly expanded but the level of monitoring by Natural England field operatives has continued to decline (in 2020 this was 0.58% of all shooting events). Monitoring no longer includes the time taken for badgers to die, but does show numbers of ‘missed’, ‘wounded and lost’ and ‘not retrieved’. Self reporting of these events by contractors is much lower than monitoring figures. In 2020 184 shooting attempts (of 31,303) were monitored:
163 were shot and retrieved, with 20 assumed missed,
123 were deemed instant kills,
38 were not instant kills and 8 of those died after moving away a short distance
There were 22 follow up shots
3 were lost (two of which were found dead the next morning)
The total ‘shot at but not retrieved’ was 21. This equates to 11.49%, but on average contractors report this figure to be around 1.5%.
Is the badger cull lowering bTB in cattle?
No. To date the government has not produced any reliable totally independent peer reviewed scientific research to prove that badger culling is lowering bovine TB in cattle (2021). Defra's own reports describe disease rates in England as being broadly stable, despite slaughtering 50% of England’s badger population (2021).
The only study to date which looked at culling as the main measure was the RBCT (Randomised Badger Control Trial) which finished in 2005. That study found that culling made no meaningful contribution to disease control in cattle.
The government argument that badger culling is working is based on the peer reviewed study published in Nature in October 2019 by Downs et al. Yet the report itself states that “these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in lowering bovine TB in cattle”.
The study data show reductions in bovine TB incidents in cattle in Gloucestershire and Somerset between 2013-2017. The data found no change in bTB incidents in cattle in Dorset during the same period. However, outside of the study period (2017-18), bTB incidents in cattle in Gloucestershire increased by 130%.
We compared Defra's quarterly published statistics and looked at the graphs of Wales vs England. The rates of bTB disease in cattle in Wales (no badger culling) continue to fall dramatically, while in England the rates of disease do not (mass badger culling).
Any attempt to prove that badger culling alone is responsible for reducing bTB incidents in cattle is misleading. Improved bTB testing, cattle movement controls and biosecurity measures could be key factors in lowering the spread of bTB in and around the cull zones.
Is bTB testing of cattle effective at stopping the spread of the disease?
The standard bovine TB skin test for cattle is not reliable, regardless of how careful the vet. It only detects between 50% and 81% of bTB infected cattle. This leaves bTB infected cattle undetected in herds that continue to spread bTB. This is not contested.
New forms of bTB testing (Gamma Interferon blood tests and Phage PCR) can significantly improve bTB detection in cattle when combined with the skin test. Too few farmers are getting access to these improved testing methods and at present the only mandated use in England of a more reliable test is in the Edge Areas, not in the High Risk areas.
Are biosecurity measures being sufficiently implemented to stop the spread of bovine TB?
Improved biosecurity measures should include;
maintaining fences and barriers between herds
raising feed and water troughs so that cattle cannot defecate in them
much better management of slurry and manure
better management of movement on and off farm, even for very short distances between pasture and yards (which are part of the same farm but not part of the same or adjoining property)
participating in well managed risk-based cattle trading.
The level of uptake of biosecurity measures on farms and across the system to prevent the spread of bTB remains low:
The government needs to make biosecurity a condition of cull licensing.
The government needs to link its bTB cattle compensation scheme to improved biosecurity measures on farms.
Will badger culling impact the overall badger population in England?
The government states that they are undertaking a badger control policy, but with badger culling now being undertaken in almost 25% of the entire land area of England (across High Risk, Edge and Low Risk bTB areas) there is a risk that badgers will be pushed to the edge of local extinction.
England has 25% of the badger population of Northern Europe and the government has a duty to protect the viability of this badger population within the Bern Convention, which protects habitats and species in Europe.
Badger Trust has submitted a complaint to the Bern Convention on the grounds the British Government is failing to gauge the impact of widespread indiscriminate badger culling on the ability of the species to maintain viable population levels in wide parts of England.
Can cattle be vaccinated against bovine TB?
Cattle can be vaccinated against bTB. Moving forward with a trial has been in part delayed due to the difficulty in differentiating between a cow vaccinated against bTB and a cow that carries the disease. We would argue that the greater delay has been the distraction caused by wrongly focusing on badgers and the badger cull. This has wasted precious time, money and government energy that could have been much better invested in a genuinely long term solution.
A test pioneered by the University of Surrey has been developed to create an appropriate bTB test for cattle (known as the DIVA test). Field trials for the vaccine and the DIVA test have now started in Hertfordshire.
Can badger vaccination lower bTB in cattle?
On the basis that badgers could pass back bTB to cattle, using BCG vaccine to lower bTB transmission to badgers should have a positive knock-on effect in lowering bTB in cattle. More peer reviewed research is needed to prove this and is currently being undertaken by Professor Woodroffe.
The government has stated that it believes badger vaccination in the Republic of Ireland is having a positive impact on lowering bTB incidents in cattle.
Can badgers be successfully vaccinated against bTB?
Badger vaccination is a viable non-lethal intervention method for lowering the already very low levels of bovine TB in badgers.
Culling works by removing individuals from a population, whether infected or not, so that they cannot infect any other in their group.
Vaccination works by removing the ability of individuals to catch and pass on infection to others. Vaccination has the added advantage that it confers immunity on unborn cubs and on nursing cubs too.
Both processes must be repeated annually for a minimum of four years, both are conducted by cage trapping the badgers first.
Is the government doing enough to support badger vaccination?
The government made it clear in its recent response to the Sir Charles Godfray bTB Review that badger vaccination will play a key role in its exit strategy from the cull policy.
Public funding is being put into supporting badger vaccination projects in the bTB Edge Area and the government has committed to putting more funds into training, equipment and communication activities to promote the scientific benefits of badger vaccination to farmers and landowners.
However, in its recent response to the badger vaccination buffer zone consultation, the government failed to provide adequate safeguards for badger vaccination projects in areas where culling is also taking place.
The government expansion of badger culling threatens to undermine existing and new badger vaccination projects in England. Culling vaccinated badgers will inevitably occur and the number of badgers available to vaccinate in subsequent years may make the scheme impossible.
The government needs to do more to provide public funding for training, equipment and communicating the scientific value of badger vaccination to farmers and landowners.
How much has the badger cull cost?
Badger Trust estimates that the cull policy has cost approximately £60 million of public funds taking into account the cost of administration, training, equipment, monitoring, policing and legal defence costs (2013-2019). We can so far evidence from Treasury accounts that it has cost the taxpayer £48 million to 2019, yet that excludes a number of significant costs which Defra refuses to disclose under Freedom Of Information.
The badger cull is much more costly to the taxpayer than it is to the farming industry. When the badger cull was implemented in 2013 the Government claimed it would be a farmer led policy with little cost burden on the public purse. That was untrue.
There is also a human cost, with rural communities split over the issues.
What is the cost of the compensation scheme for farmers?
Defra originally justified the badger cull policy on the basis that the compensation bill for bovine TB was rising rapidly and would continue to do so unless badger culling was introduced. They were wrong. The compensation bill was £28 million in the year 2011-2012 (before the cull started). By the year 2019, it had risen annually until it reached £34 million – an increase of more than 20%. Had the cull reduced disease among cattle as Defra has repeatedly claimed, we’d expect to see the compensation bill fall or at least level off.
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