The badger cull
Over 176,000 badgers have been killed since the current badger cull began in England in 2013. Badgers are killed in their thousands from Cornwall to Cumbria under misguided and fundamentally flawed attempts to control bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), an infectious respiratory disease which affects cattle.
Badgers are not the problem
Bovine TB is always present in the environment and can affect or be carried harmlessly by many species – livestock and wildlife alike. Yet the government has focused on badgers, even though 94% of cattle infections are from cow to cow. Many in the farming community wrongly believe that badgers are a significant vector in the spread of the disease. For many years, independent scientists, vets, researchers, as well as Badger Trust, have rightly challenged this claim.
The science behind the driving cause of the epidemic that is bTB in cattle includes a recent study on this badger vs cow debate, published in Vet Record in March 2022. The robust, and comprehensive analyses of DEFRA’s own data conducted by independent scientists, show clearly that there is no evidence that badger culling has had any impact on reducing bTB in cattle. By comparing cull and non-cull areas the study showed that any reduction in bTB in cattle was likely a result of cattle measures. Further analysis of ten county areas considered high-risk areas for bTB shows that in 9 out of 10 of these counties, bTB in cattle peaked and then began to fall before the government ever implemented a badger cull.
The Big Badger Debate
Who is ‘manipulating’ the bTB data?
Badger Trust hosted The Big Badger Debate webinar on 13 April 2022 to present a summary of the recent peer-reviewed paper* ‘Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009–2020’ and to debate ‘Who is ‘manipulating’ the bTB data?’.
Author Dr Mark Jones presented a summary of the paper. Then, joined by author Tom Langton and zoonotic expert Professor Dr Paul Torgerson, they debated the issues surrounding the paper’s rigorous analyses of Defra’s own bTB surveillance data, and Defra’s response that the study is based on a 'manipulation' of data. Finally, all three participants answered questions from an engaged and informed audience. Defra and Natural England, although invited, did not attend the debate and instead sent a statement.
In the spirit of transparency, we present the entire webinar uncut for you to watch.
If you don’t have time to watch the whole debate, from 4-25 minutes author Dr Mark Jones presents a helpful summary of this crucial scientific paper.
*The paper, published in the Veterinary Record on 18 March 2022, rigorously analysed government bTB surveillance data and concluded that culling badgers has had no effect on reducing bovine TB in cattle. Instead, incidences of bTB reduction were due to cattle measures implemented either before the cull ever began or during the cull period.
The government's bovine TB strategy should focus more on cattle and less on badgers
The biggest risk factors for any cattle herd are poorly regulated cattle movement, poor biosecurity, and an outdated, unreliable testing regime. Yet the government has been reluctant to use the most effective methods to take the steps needed to stop bTB.
And although a cattle vaccination is the most effective, fastest and long term solution to the bTB problem, there is still no approved cattle vaccine licensed for use. Badger Trust has been calling for significant investment in cattle vaccination for over 10 years, and the delay has been paid for in badger’s lives. The Animal & Plant Health Authority (APHA), an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), announced in July 2021 that it is only now field-testing a cattle vaccine, which ‘could be deployed in 2025’.
The badger cull isn’t coming to an end any time soon
The current badger cull in England was a commitment in the Conservative party election manifesto in 2010, and has been underway since 2013, killing over 176,000 badgers to end a cattle disease problem. Despite what the government says, the badger cull isn’t coming to an end any time soon. The badger cull is set to run to at least 2025 and, with supplementary cull licences, could continue for some years after that. The Government confirmed its bTB eradication policy plans in May 2021 and the reality makes hard reading.
The scale of the badger cull is immense
The scale of the badger cull in England is immense and stretches from Cornwall to Cumbria. There are 61 active areas and the scale and pace of the killing have accelerated in recent years. At least 33,687 badgers were slaughtered in 2021.
This figure brings the total to 176,928 badgers killed under government cull licences since 2013, representing over a third of the entire UK badger population.
Badger cull counties in 2021: Avon, Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
The map shows the extent of the badger cull* in England and includes:
number of badger cull zones in a county
badgers killed per county
percentage of county area culled
where the cull zones encroach upon county borders
* 2020 zones plus 2021 expressions of interest. Seven additional cull areas were licensed by Natural England in August 2021
Details of badger cull figures 2013 to 2021
The graph shows how many badgers have been culled between 2013 and 2021.
Bovine TB is a complex subject and it’s sometimes difficult to get at the facts behind the spin. We’ve gathered together some of the most important, covering everything from the size of the bTB problem to the cost of the government's solutions, both in financial terms and the outcome for badgers and farmers alike.
Badger Trust’s view is that to solve the problem of bovine TB, the government needs to change the focus to cattle. Badger Trust set out in detail our recommendations on cattle measures as part of the government’s bTB eradication policy in our submitted response to their ‘Call for Views’ in April 2021.
Science tells us that the badger can only play a very small part in the spread of bovine TB. Cattle continue to account for almost every case of infection cow to cow – over 94%. The remainder come from a variety of sources including ‘unknown’.
The government has been reluctant to use the most effective methods to take the steps needed to stop bTB. The focus needs to be on cattle and cattle-based measures:
What we do
Badger Trust campaigns to expose the truth and #CanTheCull
Our campaign to #CanTheCull is our priority campaign. We campaign, advocate, educate, and where necessary, agitate to stop the senseless slaughter and switch the focus to cattle – where the problem starts and ends.
Despite badgers normally being protected under the law, in England the Government targets them as a key part of its strategy to eradicate bovine TB. The problem does not start with badgers; bTB is a respiratory disease in cattle, and focusing on badgers is nothing but a scapegoat approach.
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Chris Packham shares how badgers play an integral and very important part in the UK's ecosystems and gives us his thoughts on the ongoing badger cull.
Nina Constable tells us "... culling one of our most iconic mammals makes absolutely no sense and can harmfully disrupt our natural ecosystems."
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Badger Trust is the leading voice for badgers in England and Wales. Here you'll find the latest Badger Trust news releases, campaign updates and our views on issues that affect badgers, their setts and their habitats.
Your badger cull questions answered
These questions are the most frequently asked questions about the badger cull and bovine TB.
Questions are gathered directly from badger groups, supporters, followers and the wider public.
Answers are collated by experts in the Badger Trust team.
Watch our original campaign video
Sir David Attenborough, Mark Carwardine, George Monbiot and Simon King OBE talk about the reality of the badger cull back in 2012, in advance of the current cull starting in 2013. It includes reference to a possible oral vaccine which is not currently in use. The initial badger cull that is referred to is the ‘Randomised Badger Culling Trial’ or RBCT, which took place between 1998 - 2006 (interrupted by Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001).
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