The badger cull
The current badger cull in England has been underway since 2013 and, following a recent Government announcement, is set to run to at least 2025 (the planned issuing of licences is expected to that point, but the right to issue further licences is reserved). To date over 140,000 badgers have been killed under what Badger Trust believes are misguided and fundamentally flawed attempts to control bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), an infectious respiratory disease which affects cattle. Tb is always present in the environment and affects many species, but the government is focussing on badgers because many in the farming community believe that badgers are a significant vector in the spread of the disease. Badger Trust fundamentally disputes this claim. The biggest factor is poorly regulated cattle movement and an inadequate testing regime.
The Government aims to make England ‘bTB free’ by 2038 and in early 2021 announced a public consultation into a new set of bTB eradication policy proposals, together with a call for views into associated cattle measures used, or which could potentially be used, to control the disease. The announcement stated an intention to end the mass culling of badgers through standard 4-year ‘Badger Disease Control’ licences by 2026 (the last new intensive cull licences being issued in 2022), and the reduction of ‘Supplementary’ licences from 4 years to 2 years.
Our projections show that this would still mean the loss of another 140,000 badgers in the coming years, totalling a horrific 280,000 badgers lost over a 16 year period. The exact population of badgers in England is not known, but the most up-to-date study put it at 485,000 (England and Wales). Badger Trust is concerned that the Government is not only undertaking the cull without real evidence that it is working, but without due consideration or care to the impact on badger populations. A complaint has been lodged under the Bern Convention by Badger Trust, in partnership with Born Free and Eurogroup for Animals, against the Government on this basis due to the threat of local extinction of this iconic, and usually protected, animal.
The cull is far from over, and our campaign to stop the senseless slaughter continues.
At Badger Trust we have openly opposed the cull since its inception: mounting and supporting legal challenges; calling for scientific research; running public educational campaigns; countering claims about the role of the badger in the fight against bTB; challenging the Government on its assertions; supporting badger groups on the ground – and more. Our stance has always been clear and remains the following:
Badgers are not to blame: Badgers have been used as a scapegoat and demonised in the media despite the lack of scientific evidence.
The science doesn’t support the culls: Independent experts and the Government’s own research does not support the culls as an effective strategy against bovine TB.
Cattle should be the primary focus: Cattle are the main carriers and transmitters for bovine TB and we feel that the bovine TB strategy should focus more on cattle and less on badgers.
As the voice for badgers in England and Wales, Badger Trust responded in depth to both the consultation and the call for views, and our releases with associated submitted documents set out in detail our arguments in both cases. We encourage anyone who wants to find out more to download and read them. The consultation closed on the 24th March 2021, and the call for views on the 21st April 2021. The Government has not advised what happens next but we stand ready to continue the battle for badgers and hope you will join us and support our campaigns as part of that.
An excellent overall article on the badger cull was published by National Geographic in February 2021, which we contributed to.
Watch our campaign video, featuring 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). And then keep scrolling down for more information on the badger cull.
Because badger shouldn't be a bad word.
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WHAT IS BOVINE TB?
Bovine tuberculosis or bovine TB (bTB) is a highly contagious and deadly disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). The disease forms in the lymph nodes of effected animals and causes symptoms such as coughing, fever, weight loss, diarrhoea, and eventually death. While highly contagious, the slow rate of onset means the disease can go unnoticed for months and even years while it spreads rapidly to other members of the herd.
The science of bTB transmission
There has only been one study commissioned by the Government into the issue of bTB transmission from badgers to cattle. This study took place between 1998 and 2006 and is undeniably the most comprehensive study that exists on bovine TB and badgers. This study was called The Randomised Badger Culling Trial or RBCT. The outcome of the study was clear “…data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”. You can read the report in full here.
More recently, the Independent Expert Panel appointed by DEFRA assessed the culls as “ineffective and inhumane” and shortly after reporting on the ineffectiveness of controlled shooting, the IEP was dissolved. Currently the badger cull has no independent scientific oversight with the government undermining expert advice and scientific research. The science has been grossly misinterpreted by groups in favour of the badger cull while independent experts go unheard. It is very important to distinguish between independent reports, and reports that have been conducted by organisations in order to further their cause giving leeway for bias and misinterpretation of data. All reports that we reference are independently or government conducted.
What we do know from both the government, and independent reports is the following:
The Randomised Badger Culling Trail (RBCT) proposes that 5.7% of all bTB outbreaks have been caused by badgers and the target for the cull period is to remove over 70% of badgers across the area.
According to the RBCT, on average, around 80% of culled badgers do not have detectable bTB, but this varies according to circumstances.
The RBCT suggests that 94.3% of all bovine TB outbreaks come from sources other than badgers although around half originated from a badger-cattle breakdown.
Welsh herds are 94% bTb free and bTB is dropping significantly without culling badgers.
It is likely that up to 22.8% of badgers killed during the IEP study in 2013 took longer than 5 minutes to die deeming the cull inhumane by IEP standards.
DEFRA have not released the public costs of the badger cull. However taking account of the costs reported for training, monitoring, equipment, policing legal costs and administration we estimate that at least £70 million has been spent to date to kill over 140,000 badgers.
The cost of the culls exceeds the cost of badger vaccination when it is carried out by volunteers where the training, equipment and vaccine is provided by DEFRA as is the case under the Badger Edge Vaccination scheme.
Extending the badger cull into further areas will increase enormously, the cost of the cull for the taxpayer, landowners and animal welfare groups.
Cattle are the true hosts of bovine TB and the primary transmission method of the disease in the UK is cattle to cattle transmission. However, the disease has been reported in both domestic and non-domestic animals including: moles, hares, otters, goats, sheep, horses, pigs, boar, deer, dogs, cats, foxes, mink, badgers, ferrets, rats, primates, llamas, squirrels and more.
Badger Culling has been controversial since the beginning as it hasn’t proved to effectively contribute into fall in TB cases in cattle. The Government’s culling policy ignores the science and runs against opinion of the majority of scientific experts who criticise badger culling as an inhumane, unnecessary and ineffective.
Here are some facts behind the badger culling:
Free shooting has been applied as a killing method as it is the most "cost effective". In fact, this method is also the most questionable and inhumane method of killing badgers as minimum training and supervision is requested from the culling companies. In recent years reports have shown that 7.4%-22.8% of badgers took more than 5 minutes to die.
None of the badgers killed during the current trials have been tested for TB, making both healthy and infected animals become targeted. Thus with no data published on how many killed badgers are infected with TB, effectiveness of culling is highly questionable.
“perturbation effect” can result in wide spread of TB as survivors of the killed badgers might roam more widely causing spread of TB into new areas. The trial from 2007 concluded that culling badgers: “can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain” (You can find full trial in here)
Let's get political.
Myth: Badgers are the main source of TB in cattle
Truth: The population of badgers with TB is relatively small. With that being said, only 5.7% of all bTB outbreaks have been the direct result of transmission from badgers to cattle. This equally means that 94.3% of all bTB outbreaks come from alternate sources. Badgers, however, are still the subject of unrelenting culling campaigns that cannot possibly eradicate bTB if they only cause 5.7% of all bTB outbreaks. We believe that 5.7% can be significantly lowered, if not removed altogether by an effective vaccination strategy and testing of badgers. At the Badger Trust we believe that the source of the other 94.3% of outbreaks needs to be the primary focus of DEFRA’s strategy.
Myth: Culling is the most effective way to reduce bTB outbreaks in cattle.
Truth: As already mentioned, only 5.7% of bTB outbreaks in cattle are caused by direct transmission from badgers. Spending £millions of taxpayer funds to kill mostly healthy badgers cannot possibly eradicate bovine tuberculosis as 80% of the culled badgers do not carry TB. We firmly believe that a vaccination and testing strategy for badgers would have a much better effect and most of that 50 million could go towards an effective strategy against the main causes and transmission of bTB. It has already been shown in Wales that tighter control on cattle movements, regular and thorough testing has shown a drop of 30% in bTB incidents. Similarly, vaccination programmes in humans has led to human TB being largely wiped out. There is no reason a similar strategy could not work for cattle and badgers alike. Currently, Welsh herds are 94% bTB free without culling badgers.
Myth: Badgers being culled have TB and are a risk to cattle
Truth: The truth is simple, 80% of the badgers being culled in England and Wales do not carry TB and vaccination programmes can effectively lower the risk and even prevent these badgers from ever carrying TB. The risk to cattle from getting bTB from badgers is already low. Scotland is a great example of this; in the 1980s badgers in Scotland that were victims of traffic accidents were tested for TB. While 1 in 48 tested positive the incidents of bTB in cattle were extremely low and often linked to cattle coming in from England, Wales and Ireland. Despite TB in badgers, the strict testing of cattle and import controls meant that in 2009 Scotland was declared bTB free.
Myth: Badgers that carry TB are in pain, suffering, and will lead to a slow and painful death.
Truth: Most badgers that test positive for TB will be latent carriers. This means that they are not suffering any symptoms. They may be infected with TB but do not have the disease and a very small percentage will ever develop symptoms. Any animal that is in pain and suffering should be addressed by a trained veterinary professional.
Myth: The Badger Trust cares more about badgers than it does cattle
Truth: The Badger Trust is made up of individuals, volunteers, and staff who are passionate about the welfare of many animals in addition to badgers. While our mission is to protect, conserve, and educate the public about badgers and their habitats we do not wish any harm to come to other species. We understand that farmers have a duty of care to their cattle and are just as passionate about their cattle as we are about badgers. For both the health and safety of cattle and badgers we would like to see a constructive and viable solution to the TB crisis. At the Badger Trust we feel that the government is simply appeasing farmers and not giving them the solution they need and deserve. The science has made it clear that culling is not an effective strategy and that other combinations are more effective. To put it simply bTB is a complex issue with complex answers, there is no one simple solution or the issue of culling (that has happened for decades) would have surely been solved by now. We wish to see a solution that doesn’t appease one cause at the expense of another and that gives long lasting and viable solutions to the bTB crisis with as few cattle and badgers killed as possible.
I am not a statistic.
In recent years it has been proven that badger culling has failed to help decline TB within cattle. Recent reports have shown that there are much more humane and efficient methods of controlling TB than culling.
Frequent Testing on Cattle:
has been proven by research to be a far more effective method to prevent TB than culling. Professor Matthew Evans, from Queen Mary University of London, stated: “Of the available bovine tuberculosis control strategies, we believe that how frequently cattle are tested and whether or not farms utilise winter housing have the most significant effect on the number of infected cattle...Our modelling provides compelling evidence, for those charged with controlling bovine TB, that investment in increasing the frequency of cattle testing is a far more effective strategy than badger culling.”
Badger and Cattle Vaccination:
Vaccination is significantly cheaper than the cost of the cull. Vaccination would help to control the spread of TB from cattle to cattle, cattle to badger, and badger to cattle. As DEFRA states:” vaccination of wild badgers in a naturally infected population results in a statistically significant 73.8% reduction in the incidence of positive results to a badger antibody test for TB.” The recent research from Queen Mary University of London has used mathematical models to show spread of TB between cattle and badgers. Lead author Dr Aristides Moustakas said: “The research suggests that an efficient way to vaccinate badgers might be to follow the spatial pattern of TB infections, for example by identifying the hot-spots where the disease is concentrated.” Ireland and Wales, after many years of badger culling, now place emphasis on vaccination.
Diagnostic Tests for Badgers:
Tests would allow more targeted interventions in a particular area at individual badgers rather than at the wider population and judge how affective vaccination is in a specific area.
Rigid Cattle Movements Control:
The movement of cattle is a major transmission route for the spread of bovine TB. A study on the role of cattle movements in bTB spread in France concluded that cattle movements were 'essential in the French bTB dynamics'. The full study can be found here.
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